Scientists grow proto-eyes in the lab

In a major advance toward regenerative medicine, researchers have for the first time coaxed stem cells from a mammal into becoming an embryonic eye, according to a study released Wednesday.

The results, published in Nature, show that growing a complex human organ inside a petri dish - while still a long way off - is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

They also point the way to new treatments for diseases that rob people of sight, and even the possibility of one day restoring vision with transplanted retinas generated from a patient's own stem cells, say outside experts.

In laboratory experiments with mice, researchers led by Yoshiki Sasai of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan began with pluripotent stem cells, the universal starter kit for virtually every specialised cell in an organism.

Up to now, stem cells have been seen mainly as a potential source of replacement tissue - such as muscle, liver or heart - composed of a single type of cell.

Generating a more complex set of cells, or an entire organ, was thought to be dependent on complicated chemical interactions with neighbouring tissues during gestation, and thus impossible outside the natural process of cell division and growth.

But Sasai and colleagues, using new lab techniques, managed to set in motion the transformation of mouse embryonic stem cells into a so-called optic cup, the layered, three-dimensional structures that become the retina in an eye.

Significantly, the cells did the work themselves, without being pushed, pulled or "pressurised" into any particular shape, the researchers said.

"What we've been able to do is resolve a nearly century-old problem in embryology by showing that retinal precursors have the inherent ability to give rise to the complex structure of the optic cup," Sasai said in a statement.

Starting as a patternless mass, the stem cells organised themselves into the two-walled form that corresponds to the inner and outer layers of the retina during the development of an embryo.

"We are now well on our way to becoming able to generate not only differentiated cell types, but organised tissues" that can be used in regenerative medicine, he said.

The discovery is especially relevant for a group of genetic eye conditions, known as retinitis pigmentosa, that lead to blindness, Sasai added.

The disease attacks vision by damaging the retina, the layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye that converts light images to nerve signals and sends them to the brain.

People with retinitis pigmentosa experience a gradual decline in vision because photoreceptor cells - composed of rods and cones - degenerate and die.

"As a step forward in the lead-up to cell replacement or even organ therapy, this is a really significant piece of work," said Richard Lang, director of the visual systems group at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, after reviewing the study.

"It shows that relatively simple culture conditions can be used to generate whole organ primordia," he said, using the term for the early, embryonic stage of organ development.

Lang said the goal of generating human eye tissue remains distant, but noted that other teams of scientists are making parallel breakthroughs on other types of tissue.

"It feels like it won't be long before the first opportunity for experimental clinical use comes along," he wrote by email.

In a commentary, also published in Nature, Robin Ali and Jane Snowden of University College London said the new self-generating proto-eye had the signature molecular markers of both the neural retina, which in living animals is linked to the brain, and a layer called the retinal pigmented epithelium, which helps keep the eye free of debris.

"An even more striking proof that these are genuine retinas is that, in culture, the synthetic optic cups undergo cell differentiation ... into all the main retinal cell types, including photoreceptors," they said.

Olivier Goureau, a researcher at the Institut de la Vision in Paris, agreed that the study broke important new ground but cautioned that mice and human eyes differ in key ways.

"The formation of the eye is the same, but most rodents don't use cones, for example, in the same manner as humans," he said by phone.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    English Teacher

    £4848 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Outstanding...

    Cover Supervisors/Teaching Assistants Secondary Schools in York

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors/Long Term Teaching Ass...

    Science Teacher

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher...

    Cover Supervisor

    £55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors needed for seco...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker