Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are exploring new treatments for vision loss after growing human retinas from scratch, according to a new paper published in the journal Science. The project advances scientists’ understanding of both retinal cell development and color vision, and it paves the way for potential treatments for vision disorders of all kinds.
“Our goal is to ultimately provide a way to grow retinas that can be transplanted, or stem cells that we can use for therapy, as a way to replace certain defective parts that lead to vision loss,” says Robert Johnston, a developmental biologist at Johns Hopkins and co-author of the paper.
The researchers started with a “clump” of stem cells in a dish; they used both embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells, which can be programmed to turn into any type of cell, in the experiment. They then introduced small molecules that prompted the cells to develop into photoreceptors, which allow retinas to perceive light before sending those signals to the brain. The lab-grown cells appeared to follow the same developmental processes and timespan as they would in a human baby, says Kiara Eldred, a doctoral candidate who oversaw the project.