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Calif Stem Cell, UC Irvine Partner on Eye Transplant Tissue

Human eye


6 February 2014. California Stem Cell Inc. in Irvine and University of California in Irvine are researching the creation of retinal tissue from stem cells for transplants in patients with incurable retinal disorders, such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. The study is funded by a $4 million grant from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

Age-related macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of vision loss for people over the age of 50. Between 5 and 14 percent of people with age-related macular degeneration will progress to late stages of the disease that causes the most severe vision loss from damage to the macula, the spot on the retina that provides sharp central vision. Retinitis pigmentosa is a much less common genetic disorder, affecting about 1 in 4,000 people in the U.S., causing damage to tissue in the back of the retina that converts light images to nerve signals.

The project aims to study the potential of improving a patient’s eyesight by developing three-dimensional retinal tissue derived from stem cells suitable for transplants. California Stem Cell will transform human embryonic stem cells into precursor retinal cells, then culture those cells with retinal pigment epithelium also derived from stem cells. Retinal pigment epithelium is a layer of the retina that interacts with photoreceptor cells in the eye and is essential for visual function.

UC Irvine’s Stem Cell Research Center will conduct proof-of-concept studies transplanting the cultured tissue in lab animals. The transplants are expected to develop into mature retina, interact with healthy host tissue, and improve the vision of recipients.

Magdalene Seiler, a research scientist at the UC Irvine medical school, is principal investigator on the project, with Hans Keirstead of UC Irvine’s Stem Cell Research Center as co-investigator. Keirstead is the founder of the Stem Cell Research Center and serves as chair of California Stem Cell’s scientific advisory board.

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