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Shedding light on the light-sensing cells of the eye

New research has explored how tiny tube-like protrusions aid photoreceptors


Scientists at the National Eye Institute in the US have discovered that tube-like projections on the cells of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) are essential for photoreceptor survival.

The insight has the potential to aid efforts to create stem cell-derived RPE as a treatment for patients with dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Study author, Kapil Bharti, is leading efforts to develop stem cell-derived RPE for an AMD clinical trial that is scheduled to begin in 2018.

Dr Bharti highlighted that the research gave scientists a better understanding of how to generate and replace RPE cells, which are among the first type of cells to stop working in AMD. The study is published in Cell Reports. 

Previous work to generate RPE from stem cells had consistently hit a stumbling block, with the cells failing to mature.

Researchers now believe that tiny protrusions on the RPE are crucial to the function of photoreceptor cells.

When cilia growth was inhibited with drugs, stem cell-derived RPE cells displayed functional defects. 

Image credit: Ruchi Sharma/National Eye Institute