Improving the integration of stem cell transplants in the retina

Prof Jane Sowden, University College London - £100,000

Stem cell therapy is a promising new area of research for a treatment for macular disease. However, it is still relatively new and experimental. Stem cells may be able to grow and replace lost or damaged cells in the eye that are responsible for vision loss in macular conditions. This research is looking into how to create and transplant the light-sensing cells known as photoreceptors. Although, currently researchers are unable to create functional photoreceptors.

What is the problem?

While a lot of research is going on into using stem cells to treat macular diseases, it is still very difficult to do. In order to successfully transplant new light-sensing cells, we need to be able to ensure they connect with the other cells of the retina. This is something we have not been able to do successfully yet. 

What are they doing?

Professor Jane Sowden and her team are looking to engineer these light-sensing photoreceptors. They will test different chemicals and molecules to see whether any of them will promote the growth of new, strong connections to neighbouring cells.

How can this help?

Many people with macular disease live knowing that there is no treatment for them, and the treatments currently available only slow the progression of the disease. However, stem cell therapy may be able to restore and reverse the sight loss associated with macular disease. Understanding better how to grow photoreceptors from stem cells could be a huge advance for eye disease and stem cell therapy.