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UC Irvine scientists make first complex tissue structure out of stem cells

Researchers have created an eight-layer, early-stage retina.

By Kristen SchottPublished: May 27, 2010 08:43 AM

UCI researchers create retinal cells.
Scientists at UC Irvine have successfully created a retina from human embryonic stem cells. It's the first three-dimensional tissue structure that has been made from such cells and marks a breakthrough in the field that could lead to the development of transplantable retinas to treat eye disorders.

"This is a major advance in our quest to treat retinal disease," said study leader Hans Keirstead of the Reeve-Irvine Research Center and the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UCI.

To create the eight-layer, early-stage retina, Keirstead and his team of scientists utilized a process called differentiation, which was used during previous studies of spinal cord injuries. The process allows human embryonic stem cells to be directed to become specific cell types.

For the retinal study, the scientists used differentiation to form multiple cell types needed for the retina. In order to mirror early-stage retinal development, the researchers bathed the stem cells in a number of solutions containing hormones. The method, which was developed by team member Dr. Gabriel Nistor, led to differentiation among the stem cells.

The early-stage retinas are now being tested in animal models to analyze how much they can improve vision. If the results are positive, the researchers can begin human clinical trials, leading to a treatment that could help more than 10 million Americans suffering from retinal diseases such as macular degeneration.

"What's so exciting with our discovery," said Keirstead, "is that creating transplantable retinas from stem cells could help millions of people, and we are well on the way."

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