Human Embryonic Stem Cells Successfully Slows Progress of Retinal Degeneration in an Animal Model



Researchers from the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem have transplanted pigment-containing visual cells derived from human embryonic stem cells, successfully preserving the structure and function of the specialized light-sensitive lining of the eye in an animal model with retinal degeneration.

Their findings, published in the October issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell, represent a significant step towards the S1934590909X0010X_covhighrestransplantation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) to treat and prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease that causes millions of people worldwide to lose their sight. In AMD, dysfunction of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a layer of cells underlying and supporting the retina, leads to damage in the central area of the retina, the macula. The macula is responsible for  high resolution vision, and is crucial for activities such as reading, driving, watching television and recognizing faces.

Prof. Benjamin Reubinoff, Director of the Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center, and Prof. Eyal Banin, Director of the Hadassah Center for Retinal and Macular Degeneration, led the research team, creating unique laboratory conditions for deriving RPE cells from human embryonic stem cells.

They found that nicotinamide (vitamin B3, NIC) and Activin A, a factor that plays an important role in differentiation of the RPE during embryonic development, can augment and direct the differentiation of hESCs into RPE also in the culture dish. When transplanted into the eyes of rats with retinal degeneration caused by malfunctioning RPE cells, they were able to delay deterioration of retinal structure and function.


Age-Related Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in adults over 50 in the western hemisphere, with 30 million affected around the world. The disease is caused by the dysfunction, degeneration and death of pigment-including retina cells (retinal pigment epithelium – RPE). This layer of cells lies between the retinal visual cells that absorb and react to light (photoreceptors), and the nourishing blood vessels in the back of the eye. The RPE provides essential support for the photoreceptors and is critical for normal vision. Dysfunction of the RPE also underlies some types of retinitis pigmentosa, a group of diseases that cause  progressive loss of vision at earlier ages and often lead to blindness.

“Although there are a variety of therapeutic approaches under development to delay the degenerative process”, explains Prof.  Reubinoff, “the grim reality is that many patients eventually lose their sight. Cell therapy to replenish the degenerating RPE cells may potentially halt progression of the disease.”

“Our findings are an important step towards the potential future use of human embryonic stem cells to support and replenish failing RPE cells in diseases that result in blindness,” Prof. Banin stated.

Working with Cell Cure Neurosciences Ltd., the researchers are anticipating testing their findings in clinical trials. Cell Cure Neurosciences Ltd. is a company of Hadasit Bio-Holdings, a subsidiary of Hadasit, Hadassah’s technology transfer arm. Prof. Reubinoff is the chief scientist of Cell Cure. Headed by Dr. Charles Irving, Cell Cure is currently raising funds to advance the research towards clinical trials. Experimental transplantation of RPE cells in human patients is expected in two to three years.

The research was partially funded by grants from the Israel Science Foundation, the Israel Ministry of Health, and the Yedidut Research Fund.

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2 Responses to “Human Embryonic Stem Cells Successfully Slows Progress of Retinal Degeneration in an Animal Model”

  1. Very hopeful news. I will share it with our eye care specialists, Thanks for sending the link.

  2. Very hopeful news. I will share this with our eye care spcialists. Thanks for sharing this.

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