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Fishing for retinal degeneration treatments

Borrowing a zebrafish retinal trick may one day help patients with macular degeneration


Scientists have been able to switch on dormant retinal cells in mice by transferring genes from the zebrafish.

Zebrafish are unlike humans in that the retina of the fish is able to regenerate lost nerve cells. These retinal cells are produced from Muller glial cells (MGCs), which are found in all mammals and a vast number of fish species.

A Yale University research team, which included ophthalmology associate professor, Dr Bo Chen, theorised that genes from the MGCs of the zebrafish could be transferred to the MGCs of mice, thus causing the rodent retina to then become able to regenerate lost nerve cells.

The success of this method was published in a paper in the journal Cell Reports.

While gene transfer is a long way from a therapy for human patients, the strategy may still one day be a promising treatment tool, Dr Chen highlighted.

He explained that: “In the future we are hoping to manipulate these cells to replenish any lost retinal neurons, either in diseased or physically damaged retinas. Potentially it’s a therapy to treat many different retinal degenerative diseases.”