Human retinas were grown from scratch by biologists at Johns Hopkins University to determine how cells that allow people to see color develop.
The research lays the foundation for researchers to develop therapies for eye diseases such as color blindness and macular degeneration.
“Everything we examine looks like a normal developing eye, just growing in a dish,” said Robert Johnston, a developmental biologist at Johns Hopkins. “You have a model system that you can manipulate without studying humans directly.”
Johnston’s lab explores what happens in the womb to turn a developing cell into a specific type of cell, an aspect of human biology that is largely unknown.
Johnston and his team focused on the cells that allow people to see blue, red and green — the three cone photoreceptors in the human eye.
Previously the majority of vision research has been on mice and fish, neither of these species has the dynamic daytime and color vision of humans. So Johnston’s team had to create the human eyes they needed — with stem cells.
“Trichromatic color vision delineates us from most other mammals,” said lead author Kiara Eldred, a Johns Hopkins graduate student. “Our research is really trying to figure out what pathways these cells take to give us that special color vision.”
Over several months, as the cells grew in the lab and became full-blown retinas, the team found the blue-detecting cells materialized first, followed by the red- and green-detecting ones. They found the key to the molecular switch was the ebb and flow of thyroid hormone. Important to note is the level of this hormone wasn’t controlled by the thyroid gland, which of course isn’t in the dish, but entirely by the eye itself.
“What’s exciting about this is our work establishes human organoids as a model system to study mechanisms of human development,” Johnston said. “What’s really pushing the limit here is that these organoids take nine months to develop just like a human baby. So what we’re really studying is fetal development.”
This groundbreaking work can lead to all sorts of applications is the vision deficiency arena.
To read the article in its entirety click here. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181011143112.htm