Retinal diseases causing loss of the light-sensing photoreceptor cells in the retina are a major cause of blindness worldwide. These conditions are largely untreatable. Current research is aiming to develop photoreceptor cell therapy as a future treatment for blindness due to photoreceptor cell death.
Stem cell cultures offer an inexhaustible source of new photoreceptor cells for cell therapy. Stem cells grown under certain conditions have the ability to form three dimensional eye cups containing layers of retinal cells resembling the embryonic eye.
In this study, the team showed for the first time that photoreceptor cells suitable for transplantation can be isolated from stem cell-derived retina using specific tags, termed biomarkers, which are located on the surface of the cells.
The next step following these proof-of-concept studies is to develop similar strategies for the purification of human photoreceptor cells from stem cell cultures for clinical photoreceptor cell therapy.