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Study Suggests Way to Replace Diseased Eye Cells (Reuters) ... thin membrane at the back of the eye that captures images that are then transmitted to the brain through the optic nerve.......--used, for example, to extract foreign objects or tumors from the eye.... - Nov 12 10:26 AM ET


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Website: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20011112/hl/eyes_1.html

Posted on: 11/12/2001

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Health - Reuters - updated 10:27 AM ET Nov 12
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Monday November 12 10:25 AM ET "Study Suggests Way to Replace Diseased Eye Cells"

Study Suggests Way to Replace Diseased Eye Cells

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Scientists in Japan have found a potential way to replace damaged cells in the eye's retina. Their animal research suggests the technique could someday prevent blindness from degenerative diseases of the retina such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

In experiments with rat eye cells, Dr. Masatoshi Haruta of Kyoto University and colleagues found that some genetic tinkering could cause cells from the iris to take on new, light-sensitive features like those of the retina.

The retina is a thin membrane at the back of the eye that captures images that are then transmitted to the brain through the optic nerve. Degenerative diseases of the retina are leading causes of blindness. Once they are damaged, retinal cells cannot regenerate on their own.

So Haruta's team investigated whether it might be possible to get cells from the nearby iris to take on the retina's duties. The surgical removal of part of the iris, they note, is already an established practice in patients--used, for example, to extract foreign objects or tumors from the eye.

The researchers took iris cells from rat eyes, then introduced a gene called Crx that is normally expressed in the photoreceptor, or light-sensitive, cells of the retina. With the help of Crx, the iris cells expressed rhodopsin, a substance in the retina that adapts the eye to changes in light, according to the report released Monday in the advance online publication of Nature Neuroscience for December.

In humans, Haruta's team notes, such a technique would allow doctors to "feasibly obtain" a patient's own tissue for use in retinal regeneration. It might be possible to remove some iris tissue, coax the cells into taking on retinal qualities, then transplant them back into a patient's eye.

Although this study is just a beginning, the researchers conclude that the findings raise "the possibility that (iris) cells constitute a potential source of retinal transplantation in patients with retinal degenerative diseases or damaged retinas."

SOURCE: Nature Neuroscience 2001;12:10.1038/nn762.

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