The light-sensing cells of the eye are the top purple and pink layers in these images. The cells on the left have been reprogrammed to make them less vulnerable to the degenerative effects of retinitis pigmentosa. As a result, more have survived compared to the untreated cells in the right image. Credit: Joseph Corbo, MD, PhD

Altering eye cells may one day restore vision

January 25, 2013 by Michael C. Purdy in Ophthalmology

(Medical Xpress)—Doctors may one day treat some forms of blindness by altering the genetic program of the light-sensing cells of the eye, according to scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Working in mice with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes gradual blindness, the researchers reprogrammed the cells in the eye that enable night vision. The change made the cells more similar to other cells that provide sight during daylight hours and prevented degeneration of the retina, the light-sensing structure in the back of the eye. The scientists now are conducting additional tests to confirm that the mice can still see.

“We think it may be significantly easier to preserve vision by modifying existing cells in the eye than it would be to introduce new stem cells,” says senior author Joseph Corbo, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and immunology. “A diseased retina is not a hospitable environment for transplanting stem cells.”

Read more: Altering eye cells may one day restore vision — Medical Xpress.

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