Californian researchers have successfully restored sight to blind rats in a landmark study
Phoebe Harkin |
The saying goes: “When it’s gone, it’s gone” – but what if that wasn’t the case in sight loss caused by severe retinal degeneration? That’s what a team at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, set out to prove in a breakthrough study (1). Following fetal retina sheet transplants, the researchers discovered that neurons in the vision centers of blind rats’ brains functioned normally.
“It’s been known that retinal sheet transplants can integrate into the degenerated eyes and allow the animals to detect light. But, beyond rudimentary light detection, it was not known how well the visual system in the brain functioned with the newly integrated retinal transplant,” said David Lyon, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine, in a statement to UCI.
“In this study, we found that neurons in the primary visual processing center perform as well as neurons in animals with normal healthy retinas,” he said. The donor cells were sensitive to various attributes of visual stimuli – including size, orientation, and contrast – as early as three months following surgery. “These results show the great potential of retinal transplants to treat retinal degeneration in people,” said Lyons. “Though more research is needed to determine effectiveness and acuity” (1).
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- A Foik et al., “Detailed visual cortical responses generated by retinal sheet transplants in rats with severe retinal degeneration”, J Neurosci, 1279-18 (2018). PMID: 30396913.