1254 GMT September 20, 2019
ARMD is a common eye problem caused by the loss of cones. Bernier's team has developed a highly effective in vitro technique for producing light sensitive retina cells from human embryonic stem cells, Medical Xpress reported.
"Our method has the capacity to differentiate 80 percent of the stem cells into pure cones," Bernier explained. "Within 45 days, the cones that we allowed to grow towards confluence spontaneously formed organized retinal tissue that was 150 microns thick. This has never been achieved before."
In order to verify the technique, Bernier injected clusters of retinal cells into the eyes of healthy mice. The transplanted photoreceptors migrated naturally within the retina of their host. "Cone transplant represents a therapeutic solution for retinal pathologies caused by the degeneration of photoreceptor cells," Bernier explained.
To date, it has been difficult to obtain great quantities of human cones. His discovery offers a way to overcome this problem, offering hope that treatments may be developed for currently non-curable degenerative diseases, like Stargardt disease and ARMD.
"Researchers have been trying to achieve this kind of trial for years," he said. "Thanks to our simple and effective approach, any laboratory in the world will now be able to create masses of photoreceptors. Even if there's a long way to go before launching clinical trials, this means, in theory, that will be eventually be able to treat countless patients."
The findings are particularly significant in the light of improving life expectancies and the associated increase in cases of ARMD. ARMD is in fact the greatest cause of blindness amongst people over the age of 50 and affects millions of people worldwide. And as we age, it is more and more difficult to avoid ― amongst people over 80, this accelerated aging of the retina affects nearly one in four. People with ARMD gradually lose their perception of colors and details to the point that they can no longer read, write, watch television or even recognize a face.