Biologists Learn to Produce Retinal Cells for the Treatment of Blindness

Swedish biologists have learned to produce retinal cells for the treatment of blindness. They can be transplanted without the risk of rejection by the human body.

Researchers at the Carolina Institute and St. Eric’s Hospital in Sweden have discovered a way to produce retinal cells from embryonic stem cells. So they plan to treat blindness in the elderly. Using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, they were able to modify the cells so that they did not cause rejection. Their results are published in the magazines Nature Communications and Stem Cell Reports.

Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in the elderly. Loss of vision is caused by the death of photoreceptors due to the degeneration of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE cells) that provide them with nutrition. Now scientists are planning to transplant new RPE cells formed from embryonic stem cells.

One of the barriers to transplanting tissue derived from stem cells is the risk of rejection. Therefore, scientists around the world are working on the creation of universal cells that will not elicit an immune response.

At the Carolina Institute, they created embryonic stem cells that can “hide” from the immune system. Using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, they removed HLA molecules that are located on the cell surface. It is through them that the immune system understands whether cells have occurred from within the body or have been introduced from the outside. Stem cells in which these molecules were absent were not rejected.

Researchers were able to show that modified RPE cells retain their functions and that no harmful mutations occur with them.

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