Light-sensing cells revived in donor eyes

Scientists have measured responses in the photoreceptor cells of eyes collected up to five hours after death

Pixabay/Arek Socha

US scientists have described their efforts to revive photoreceptor cells in donor eyes as part of new research published in Nature.

The study by University of Utah researchers has the potential to aid the understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, including age-related macular degeneration.

Dr Fatima Abbas, of the University of Utah, explained that scientists were able to ‘wake up’ photoreceptors in the human macula.

"In eyes obtained up to five hours after an organ donor's death, these cells responded to bright light, coloured lights, and even very dim flashes of light," she said.

Initial experiments revived photoreceptors, but cells appeared to have lost the ability to communicate with other retinal cells.

Researchers overcame this challenge by sourcing donor eyes in under 20 minutes from the time of death and using a special transportation unit that restores oxygen and other nutrients to the donor eyes.

Dr Frans Vinberg, of the University of Utah, shared: "We were able to make the retinal cells talk to each other, the way they do in the living eye to mediate human vision.”

“Past studies have restored very limited electrical activity in organ donor eyes, but this has never been achieved in the macula, and never to the extent we have now demonstrated,” he added.