Can cadavers help restore vision to the blind?

This may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. According to an article published Thursday, January 14, 2021 by Stem Cell Reports, retinal stem cells collected from human cadavers may offer a potential treatment for blindness.

When healthy retinal pigment epithelium cells were implanted under the macula of blind monkeys, at least some vision was restored without serious side effects, the study’s researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City said. (The retinal pigment epithelium is a layer of pigmented cells in the retina and the macula is the central part of the retina.)

The transplanted cells (harvested from human cadavers) effectively took over the function of the monkeys’ natural retinal pigment epithelium, enabling them to see, according to the researchers.

The study’s co-author Timothy Blenkinsop, assistant professor of cell, developmental and regenerative biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said this in a statement:

“We have demonstrated that [donor cells] at least partially replace function in the macula of a non-human primate, human cadaver donor-derived cells can be safely transplanted underneath the retina and replace host function, and therefore may be a promising source for rescuing vision in patients with retina diseases.”

Retinal pigment epithelium dysfunction can lead to eye disorders such as macular degeneration, causing vision loss and blindness, which affects about 200 million people worldwide.

Using cadaver donor eyes can help ensure donor cells match well with recipients, and can serve as a recurring source of human retinal pigment epithelium cells.

These retinal pigment epithelium “patches,” or small quantities of collected cells, transplanted under the primates’ maculas remained “stable and integrated” for at least three months, without serious side effects such as immune-system rejection or light sensitivity. This is quite encouraging.

Additionally, the transplanted cells worked well with the existing retinal pigment epithelium to support the existing photoreceptors in their eyes, which aids with light absorption, among other functions.

Transplantation of retinal pigment epithelium stem cells derived from human adult cadaver eyes could serve as a possible treatment for macular degeneration, the study suggests.

However, the researcher stress that additional research on this approach is necessary to explore whether stem cells derived from cadaver adult eyes can restore vision in human patients.

“The results of this study suggest human adult donor retinal pigment epithelium is safe to transplant, strengthening the argument for human clinical trials for treating retina disease,” Blenkinsop said.

To read the original article click here. (Retinal stem cells from cadavers may help restore vision in blind, study finds – UPI.com)