UCL News


UCL in the News: Fish eye clue to blindness treatments

2 August 2007

A special type of cell in the eye has been found to play a key role in restoring vision after extensive damage to the retina and could be used in experimental treatments for blindness within a few years.

In the wake of studies conducted with rats and zebrafish, British scientists believe they may be able to use these cells - known as Müller glial cells - to regenerate damaged retina in humans. …

Researchers at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital have studied these Müller glial cells in the human eye and found that some have stem cell properties and are able to develop into a range of different retinal cells, so they could in theory be used for repair. …

In addition to growing the cells in the lab and transplanting them back into the eye, the researchers are looking at ways to stimulate growth and persuade the eye to repair itself using its own cells.

"Müller cells with stem cell properties could potentially restore sight to someone who is losing or has lost their sight due to diseased or damaged retina," says Dr Astrid Limb, who led the study. …

"Our next step is to identify which factor is responsible for blocking the regeneration," says Dr Limb. "Once we know how this mechanism works, we will be much closer to developing a treatment."

Prof Peng Khaw, Director of the new National Institute for Health Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology commented:

"We urgently need new treatments that give us the hope of restoring vision in people who have lost sight. This is one of the interesting treatments we hope to be developing through to benefit patients in the next few years." …

The new work on adult stem cells that can turn to all types of nerve cell in the retina complements other research being undertaken at Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

Professor Pete Coffey's group is trying to turn embryonic stem cells into retinal pigment epithelium, which is a layer of cells above the retina that protect light sensitive cells (photoreceptors) in the eye. These epithelial cells are damaged early during the common eye disease macular degeneration.

Professor Robin Ali's group has identified developmental stages in the mice in which photoreceptor precursor cells are able to migrate and integrate into the retina, also bringing closer the prospect of new treatments for blindness.

Roger Highfield, 'Daily Telegraph'