Repairing retinas and restoring vision: Generating photoreceptors directly from skin cells offers ‘quick and easy’ therapy


Damage to the retina can have serious consequences and lead to retinal diseases. Even cutting edge medicine like cell therapy can be laborious and consume time that patients don’t have. For this reason, scientists at the North Texas Eye Research Institute came up with an easy and quick way to repair the retina damaged in eye diseases by using just a handful of chemicals to generate cells that can restore visual function.

The skin is common source for cells to be “reprogrammed”, but it usually takes about 25 days to convert them into into stem cells. It then takes 65-70 more days to turn them into photoreceptors and get them ready for cell therapy. 

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Now, with the use of five small chemicals, the group of researchers from North Texas Eye Research Institute has sidestepped these complications. They published their study, led by postdoctoral scholar Biraj Mahato, in Nature. They used chemicals called small molecule drugs to generate photoreceptors directly from skin cells called fibroblasts, skipping that tricky reprogramming step.

[T]hey transplanted the new photoreceptors into mice with retinal degeneration. The researchers then looked straight into the eyes of the mice. They found that about half of the mice with retinal degeneration that received a transplant of chemically-induced photoreceptors had a pupil reflex similar to those that did not have retinal degeneration, meaning they had improved visual response.

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