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Subspecialties Retina, Basic & Translational Research

Photo Opportunity

Credit: The placenta and umbilical cord. Watercolour, 1800s. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

A multi-institute research team from China has partially restored vision and retinal structure in rats with retinal degeneration by transplanting photoreceptor-like cells that were grown from human amniotic epithelial stem cells (hAESCs) (1).

To differentiate the hAESCs, the group treated them with a range of agents designed to drive their growth into the desired cell type – ultimately producing photoreceptor-like cells that demonstrate the morphology, key expression markers, and the behavior of natural photoreceptor cells.

But after differentiating the cells, there remains the big hurdle of graft rejection. Fortunately, contrary to immunogenicity concerns with embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), hAESCs – and the photoreceptor-like cells grown from them – appear to have low levels of immunogenicity and were successfully transplanted into the rats.

hAESCs also overcome a major ethical objection to using embryonic-sourced stem cells; hAESCs are obtained from the amniotic membrane of the placenta, which is normally disposed of after birth.

Overall, given the partial restoration of eyesight in rats, the low-risk of immune rejection, and the efficient sourcing of tissue and differentiation procedures compared with other stem cell methods, the authors were hopeful about the future of this “promising” technique but noted the need for additional studies into optimal cell doses and delivery schemes.

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  1. J Li et al., Int J Mol Sci, 23, 8722 (2022). PMID: 35955866.
About the Author
Geoffrey Potjewyd

Associate Editor, The Ophthalmologist

The lion’s share of my PhD was spent in the lab, and though I mostly enjoyed it (mostly), what I particularly liked was the opportunity to learn about the latest breakthroughs in research. Communicating science to a wider audience allows me to scratch that itch without working all week only to find my stem cell culture has given up the ghost on the Friday (I’m not bitter). Fortunately for me, it turns out writing is actually fun – so by working for Texere I get to do it every day, whilst still being an active member of the clinical and research community.

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