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Eyes as a Source of Autologous Stem Cells

Researchers from Neural Stem Cell Institute in New York have found a new adult stem cell source in a cells layer at the back of the eye. These stem cells belong to central nervous system. The study results were reported in the January issue of Cell Stem Cell.

The layer that can become a new source of autologous stem cells in the future is known as the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). It is crucial for vision, as it supports photoreceptors in retina, and without this layer the vision is lost. Apart from its functions for vision, the layer contains stem cells that under right conditions, for example, in culture, can wake up and give rise to different cell types. The surprise is, these cells can be found even in elderly people—laid down in the embryo, they can stay dormant for hundred years.

Though the team of researchers got these stem cells from donors shortly after their death, the cells can also be accessible in living people. The cells can be isolated from the fluid surrounding retina at the back of the eye—not a big deal for retinal surgeons.

The researchers also were interested in the ability of these stem cells to divide and regenerate tissues. By placing cells into different culture conditions, they found the most favorable ones for cell division. About 10% of the cells had regenerative potential and were multipotent, i.e. able to turn into different cell types. However, understanding differentiation capacity of these stem cells requires another research.

The stem cells discovered may one day wake up to repair eyes of millions of people suffering from macular degeneration—under special conditions. They may also give understanding why in some diseases other tissue types are found in the eye.

Fetal stem cells treatment results depend on: disease's severity, age of the patient, adherence for the medications and regime. Treatment results, presented on this site, are individual for each clinical case.