A method to turn human stem cells into retinal ganglion cells has been developed by researchers at John Hopkins University. These cells, which are located within the eye's retina, are responsible for transmitting images from the eye to the brain. Conditions like glaucoma and multiple sclerosis can cause these cells to malfunction, or even die, eventually resulting in partial or total blindness.
"Our work could lead not only to a better understanding of the biology of the optic nerve, but also to a cell-based human model that could be used to discover drugs that stop or treat blinding conditions," says study leader Donald Zack, M.D., Ph.D., the Guerrieri Family Professor of Ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "And, eventually it could lead to the development of cell transplant therapies that restore vision in patients with glaucoma and MS."
According to the journal Scientific Reports, the laboratory process involves using genetically modified human embryonic stem cells that become fluorescent when differentiate alongside retinal ganglion cells. The line that's formed between them is used for the development of new differentiation methods, and the characterization of the resulting cells.
Researchers used a genome editing laboratory tool to modify the stem cells DNA by adding a fluorescent protein gene. This new fluorescent gene would only activate if another gene, found only in mature retinal ganglion cells, was also active. If the stem cell developed into a retinal ganglion cell, it would glow red under a microscope.