Scientists in the UK have taken a huge leap towards curing blindness, one of the long-term complications of diabetes.
In a new study published in the journal Nature Biotech, researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital and University College London showed the light-sensing part of the eye can be repaired using stem cells, raising the prospect of reversing blindness.
Using a new laboratory technique for building retinas, the team collected thousands of stem cells which were primed to transform into photoreceptors and injected them into the eyes of blind mice.
Photoreceptors are cells in the retina that react to light and convert it into an electrical signal which can be sent to the brain. However, these cells are destroyed by some causes of blindness such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic maculopathy.
The results of the lab test showed that the stem cells linked with the other parts of the eye and began to function, offering “real proof of concept that photoreceptors can be transplanted from an embryonic stem cells source”.
Speaking to the BBC, Professor Chris Maso, from University College London, said the next step is to improve the effectiveness of the stem cell treatment, as only about 1,000 cells out of a transplant of 200,000 actually connected with the rest of the eye, and see if it works in humans.
But he added the findings are “a significant breakthrough which may lead to cell therapies and will give a much expanded knowledge on how to cure blindness”.
The scientists said clinical trials of the treatment could realistically begin by 2018.
Whilst the research is at a very early stage, it brings the possibility of new treatments for blindness caused by conditions including those related to diabetic retinopathy .

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