Stem Cell Transplantation to Treat Macular Degeneration

Photoreceptors or Rods and cones enable us to see in day or night. Retinal Pigment Epithelial or RPE cells nourish the rods and cones. Without healthy RPE cells the photoreceptor cells are damaged or die.

Masayo Takahashi: Once the photo receptor cells have been lost, only the cell transplantation will cure. But before the photo receptor cells are damaged, we can rescue the photo receptor cells by transplanting the new, healthy retinal pigment epithelial cells.

Narrator: At the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, in Kobe, Japan, a way has been found to create human photoreceptor cells and RPE cells from human embryonic stem cells. They are working on a way to purify photoreceptor cells because some of these cells can cause tumors. One of the drawbacks to transplantation of cells made from embryonic stem cells is that human recipients will have to take immuno-suppressive drugs because these cells come from another person. In a dramatic development, research is underway to use induced pluri-potent stem cells for the treatment of macular degeneration because these cells would be made from the same person, eliminating the need for immuno-suppressive drugs as well as any religious objections. It is hoped that RPE cell transplantation clinical trials will begin within 3 years. For photo receptor cells it will take a much longer time, hopefully within 10 years.

Masayo Takahashi: Regenerative medicine is not a dream. At the beginning the effect of the regenerative medicine for retinal diseases will have small effect and then gradually the treatment will be improved and it will be one of the main treatments in the retinal disease, I am sure…

Masayo Takahashi, MD, PhD
Riken Center for Developmental Biology
Lab for Retinal Regeneration