New insights on eye stem cells

Author: Stem Cell Network, 08/26/09

Retinal stem cell - Wallace group Retinal stem cells have now been created from human skin, adding yet another specialized cell type to a rapidly growing list of cells that can be created using induced pluripotent (iPS) methodology. The finding could prove to be an important method in the production of human retinal cells, which would help overcome one of the greatest obstacles to successful stem cell therapies to treat eye conditions. The announcement was made on Monday by a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Discoveries such as this are important to understanding development of the human eye and understanding how eye diseases or other genetic eye conditions arise and progress. In the lab, these cells can be used to model diseases, enabling safe and rapid testing of potential drug therapies. Read SCN’s 2009 summary of current global and Canadian research to treat eye disease.

A Canadian team led by Valerie Wallace at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute is concurrently studying better methods for controlling stem cells, so that they can coax these cells into producing different types of eye cells, such as retinal and corneal cells. They will also develop more efficient transplantation methods that help new eye cells integrate with existing tissue to restore lost vision. And they will work towards combining cells, genes, biomaterials and pharmaceuticals to create an improved artificial cornea.

Retinal stem cells were first discovered in 2000 by Derek van der Kooy at the University of Toronto.

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3 Responses

  1. Derek van der Kooy, University of Toronto says:

    I was a little unimpressed by this paper. It doesn’t provide much advance over a previous paper by Lamba et al (ref 33 in the present paper). The authors suggest they have a pure population of retinal progenitors, but the best they seem to be able to do is just over 95% pure – this still leaves a pretty big population of non retinal cells – some of which may retain ES characteristics and potentially cause tumours. The authors seem careful in the paper to avoid saying that they have produced retinal stem cells from ES cells; this is good because they would need to do the work clonally to prove that they had a retinal stem cell – a single cell that could give rise to both retinal neurons and RPE cells. Most critically, we know that retinal stem cells are pigmented cells, and there is no evidence here that single pigmented cells are produced that are both retinal multipotential and self-renewing.

  2. Stem Cell Network Office says:

    Thanks for your careful review and thoughts, Derek.The paper in question can be obtained from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at

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