Thursday, 31 January 2013

Scientists grow lens epithelium using human embryonic stem cells

In a study published a few days ago, two researchers from the Monash University describe how they managed to create, for the first time, lens epithelium ( the tissue from which the eye's lens is derived) using  human embryonic stem cells  (hESCs)  According to them, their lab-grown lens has the potential to treat congenital sight impairment and other eye diseases.

The researchers also managed to differentiate the lens epithelium precursor cells into lens cells, thus creating  a model for testing experimental drugs on human, lab-grown tissue.

As we explain in our embryonic stem cells article, hESCs have the capacity to differentiate into almost all different types of somatic cells (neurons, blood cells, etc). However the real challenge comes to controlling the differentiation process so that the desired somatic cell is derived. To do so, the researchers used a technology known as fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) to firts identify the exact combination of protein markers expressed in the lens epithelium and then to isolate these cells from the rest. Tiziano Barberi says that the process was quite difficult, as these protein markers exist in more than one type of cells.

According to Barberi, their newly created lens has the potential to provide a real cure, via transplantation, to people with visual impairment caused either by congenital cataracts or trauma. However, Barbery says that in congenital cataracts the problems lies in the patient's genetic material. As a result, a lens transplant would initially provide some relief, but eventually the problem would reappear.

Human Eye Diagram

He adds that their technology could one day be combined with induced pluripotent stem cells to create a transplant for even more eye diseases.

Finally, Barbery said that his lab grown lens cells were organised differently compared to those found in a human eye. The team's next goal is to create a lens than better mimics the properties of a real eye

Mengarelli I, & Barberi T (2013). Derivation of Multiple Cranial Tissues and Isolation of Lens Epithelium-Like Cells From Human Embryonic Stem Cells. Stem cells translational medicine PMID: 23341438

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