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May 21, 2009 Julie G Heflin
(502) 852-7987
julie.heflin@louisville.edu

Stem cells hold promise in treating retinal degeneration

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A team of University of Louisville scientists have discovered that stem cells taken from bone marrow can restore damaged retinal tissue by generating new cells. This is the first known study where stem cells derived from bone marrow have been used to restore the pigmented cell layer just outside the retina or the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE).

The research moves science a step closer to helping those who suffer from vision loss and blindness due to age-related macular degeneration and hereditary retinal degenerations.

During their experiments, UofL researchers found that bone-marrow derived stem cells (BMSCs) were attracted to damaged RPE, and were able to differentiate or move from less specialized cells into components of RPE.

According to researcher Suzanne Ildstad, “More research is needed to optimize the outcome and potential for repair of damaged retinal pigment epithelium. A combination with up-to-date tissue engineering might be critical for ultimate success.”

UofL Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences researcher Henry Kaplan is now expanding this research in conjunction with the Swine Institute at the University of Missouri. Kaplan says pigs have more optical similarities to humans.

“After learning more about how bone-marrow derived stem cells can help regenerate retinal pigment epithelium in swine, we hope to translate our research into the clinical setting,” Kaplan said.

This research has implications for a number of chronic diseases including congestive heart failure, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases, spinal cord injuries, age-related macular degeneration and hereditary retinal degenerations.

Age-related macular degeneration affects 10 percent to 20 percent of people over the age of 65 years old. Hereditary retinal degeneration is another leading cause of blindness and typically involves an onset of night blindness, an early loss of peripheral vision and late loss of central vision.

The study, published recently in the Archives of Ophthalmology, is available online at archopht.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/127/4/563.

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