A group of scientists from the University of Washington have shown in new research published in Nature that they can regenerate the retina cells in the eyes of adult mice.
The research may one day make it possible to regenerate the retina cells in eyes of patients with age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and other pathologies of the eye.
The cells of our retinas lack the stem cells that some tissues have that allow them to divide and regenerate. Because of this, damage to the retina is often untreatable with today’s medicine and leads to permanent vision loss.
The scientists created a mouse that had a version of a gene known as Ascl1, the gene enables cells called Müller glia to regenerate damaged retinas. The Ascl1 gene was activated with an injection of the drug tamoxifen.
Previous research by the scientists had shown that the Ascl1 gene would only lead to regeneration of the retina if activated within two weeks of the mice birth.
The new paper published on Wednesday, demonstrates that that, by using a drug that blocks epigenetic regulation called a histone deacetylase inhibitor, it enables the activation of the Ascl1 gene in the eyes of adult mice.
The Müller glia cells are then able differentiate into functioning interneurons. The paper shows that these interneurons then propagate into the mice retina, forming connections with other retinal cells, and react normally to signals from the light-detecting retinal cells.
The lead researcher of the team, Prof. Tom Reh said in an interview with the University of Washington Health Science NewsBeat they hope to discover if other factors exist that can be activated to allow the Müller glia cells to regenerate into all the different cell types of the retina.