The Retina, Renewed… Thanks to Your Own Skin Cells

Might you soon take a skin cell from a patient with retinitis pigmentosa, roll it back to a pluripotent state, culture it to become retinal cells and trial gene therapy on it in vitro?

By Mark Hillen

Personalized medicine is a particularly hot topic in medicine. Take cells from a patient, modify or grow them, and return them to the patient for their therapeutic effects. What a team of Manhattan-based researchers are doing at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) is something rather special. They take skin epithelial cells from patients with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), turn them into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, then differentiate them into retinal cells in cell culture, enabling them to examine what the structural and functional defects of these retinal cells really are – without having to perform a dangerous (and ethically dubious) excision of a section of a patient’s retina to do so (1).

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