Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

New Transplant Technique May Restore Eyesight

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

New Transplant Technique May Restore Eyesight

Article excerpt

New Transplant Technique May Restore Eyesight

Of all the vagaries that the future can hold, blindness may be the most frightening and horrible to conceive.

Investigations being conducted at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis, however, may eventually change the way we think of and talk about blindness. Studies at the University's Central Institute for the Deaf (CID) have resulted in the first successful transplantation of photoreceptor tissue into blind eyes, according to researchers whose findings were published in the August issue of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

The work holds no immediate prospect for clinical application but does leap several hurdles impeding photoreceptor transplants.

Most neural blindness is caused by damage to and degeneration of the eye's rods and cones, the photoreceptor cells that begin the conversion of light into nerve impulses. Perhaps 15 percent of adults lose some or all of their vision to age-related macular degeneration, a syndrome that especially affects photoreceptors, in the fovea, the tiny area at the retina's center most responsible for sharpness of vision. Add to that population the many victims of retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease affecting younger adults, and those who damage their eyes by overexposure to sunlight or other bright sources. Blind people whose vision loss is attributed to impaired photoreceptors number in the millions.

CID scientists Martin S. Silverman, Ph.D., and Stephen E. Hughes, Ph.D., pioneered techniques to replace missing photoreceptors with transplanted photoreceptors in the hope that they might take over the task of responding to light. Though the experiments showed that it is possible to place the cells in the correct location within the retina and to do so gently enough that the cell's characteristic shapes are generally preserved, it remains to be seen whether the transplanted cells will survive indefinitely and whether they will make their essential connections with adjacent layers of the retina.

The concept of replacing damaged photoreceptors is revolutionary, but "once we had the idea, it was really just a matter of overcoming the technical problems," Silverman says. …

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