Almost everyday I have someone ask me if it possible to do a retinal transplant for people who suffer from vision loss due to macular degeneration. The answer has always been “not yet”. A recent post by Review of Optometry doesn’t change this answer, but it does offer some hope.
There are two glimpses of hope from this post. One is that a research team has discovered that they may be able to turn epithelial cells into stem cells. While most cells are programmed to grow into only a certain type if cell (skin, hair, teeth, muscle,etc) stem cells are a wild-card type of cell in our body that can develop into any tissue. This study is that this team has learned how to take skin cells and convert them into stem cells.
The second, and most exciting, part of this study is a leaked report from a research group which is currently carrying out studies on growing new retinas from stem cells in patients with macular degeneration. It reports that one patient had vision improve from 20/400 to 20/40. That is amazing because it changes a persons vision from being legally blind to being able to drive a car. So is it possible to do retinal transplants? The answer is yes, but it still may be years before this treatment is an option for patients.
Michael Nelson, Optometrist, Waverley Eye Care, Winnipeg