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Retinal Cells Produced Without Animal Matter from Stem Cells

Jason Meyer (IUPUI)

Jason Meyer (IUPUI)

Biologists at Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI) developed a lab technique to produce human eye cells from stem cells without animal products or proteins, which limits their use in treating diseases. The team led by IUPUI biology professor Jason Meyer published their findings online yesterday in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine (paid subscription required).

The promise of regenerative medicine with human induced pluripotent stem cells has been restricted by methods using xenogeneic products (derived from animals) and proteins for stem cells to grow and differentiate into specific types of human tissues. While current xenogeneic techniques with stem cells can still produce useful cells for drug testing and tissue modeling, the presence of foreign animal matter makes the process less useful for devising treatments directly for humans.

Meyer (pictured right) and colleagues developed a process that uses only chemicals, not animal products or proteins, to stimulate human pluripotent stem cells to develop into neural retinal cell types. The new cells include photoreceptors that detect light and retinal ganglion cells that transmit visual information from the photoreceptors. Tests of the technique against conventional methods showed the cells function and grow as efficiently in the animal-free process as in conventional methods.

“Since these kinds of stem cells can be generated from a patient’s own cells, there will be nothing the body will recognize as foreign,” says Meyer. The technique should also enable researchers to better control the consistent quality of cells since they know the components used to induce growth and thus reduce variations.

“This method could have a considerable impact on the treatment of retinal diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and forms of blindness with hereditary factors,” Meyer adds.

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