Understanding How Streamlined Stem Cells Treat Macular Degeneration

For years now, scientists have known of a group of uncommitted cells (known as stem cells) capable of transforming into any type of cells. Due to the pluripotency of these cells, several scientists have postulated that these cells may be the key to treating age-related macular degeneration (a disease caused by the death of cells of the macular of the eye). However, despite the knowledge that stem cells could treat this condition, scientists have not been able to develop an effective therapy for this condition. Thus far, scientists have considered the result of using stem cells as therapy for this condition without considering the process involved. This creates some flaws in what we currently know.

Age-related Macular Degeneration

Age-related Macular Degeneration

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However, a study conducted by international scientists discovered the underlying means by which stem cells replaced the dying cells of the macula. The study is published and starred on this month’s cover of the journal Stem Cell Reports. They theorize that the discovery may well hold the key to treating macular degeneration.

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is an age-related disease where the macula, the most sensitive part of the retina to light, begins to lose its function as a result of the death of retina cells situated in the layer of the retina known as the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). These cells are usually involved in several important functions, including tidying up cellular waste and light absorption.

How do stem cells undergo streamlining to form retinal pigment epithelial cells?

To study the mechanism involved, the scientists used single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) to evaluate the entire gene expression profile of individual human stem cells in each stage of the streaming process. This process took a total of 6 days.

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They then mapped out the transient states of the differentiating cells while suppressing the growth of cells differentiating into non-RPE cells, thus allowing the uncontaminated study of the former.

Their results revealed that the stem cells showed a “rostral embryo patterning” as observed in neural tube formation during the initial stages of embryonic development. In the embryo, this tube would later contribute to the formation of three senses (sight, hearing, and taste). They theorized that the process of differentiation of the stem cells into RPEs was similar to that observed in the embryo.

Clinical significance

This study tremendously contributes to what we know about stem cell differentiation. Although this study has thus far only been performed on albino rats, plans to perform clinical trials are in progress.

We know that replenishing the RPEs using stem cells can serve as prophylactic treatment and therapy for macular degeneration; however, prior to this study little was known of the mechanism involved. With the clarity this study proffers, scientists can formulate effective stem cell treatment for age-related macular degeneration. Additionally, this study could serve as a building block to the development of other therapy involving stem cells.

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This study which focused on the path taken by stem cells undergoing streamlining to fully differentiated cells is the first to propose clinical trials based on results obtained from this process. It is expected that the clinical trials will reflect the efforts of the team in coming up with such a wonderfully useful study.


Molecular profiling of stem cell-derived retinal pigment epithelial cell differentiation established for clinical translation



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