A team of scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California has discovered that certain stem cells taken from the bone marrow may be able to treat eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and the deterioration of vision that is associated with old age. The research will be published in the September issue of Nature Medicine.
The subset of bone marrow cells that gives rise to red blood cells -- the hematopoietic lineage -- also contains cells called endothelial precursor cells (EPC), which are capable of forming blood vessels. Using a mouse model, Martin Friedlander and colleagues found that when this particular line of cells, taken from mouse bone marrow, is injected in the intravitreal space of the eye, the EPC attach to cells in the retina called astrocytes. Once they have targeted the astrocytes, the EPC incorporate themselves into the existing blood vessel structure and can improve the deteriorating vasculature by forming new blood vessels. Furthermore, because the EPC integrate with astrocytes, if they are genetically modified before being injected into mice eyes, they can also stop the proliferation of unwanted blood vessels.
Thus, if the technique works as well in humans as it does in mice, the scientists propose that these stem cells may be able to treat eye conditions in which the blood vessels of the retina have altered. The findings also suggest that genetically modified EPC could be used for “...local delivery of pharmacological agents” representing a new way of treating eye diseases.
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working age Americans, and almost all people who have had diabetes for more than 30 years will show signs of poor eyesight. Age-related macular degeneration is a common cause of vision loss among people over age of 60. Both conditions are caused by damage to blood vessels of the retina.
Dr Martin Friedlander
Department of Cell Biology
The Scripps Research Institute
La Jolla, CA, USA
Tel: +1 858 784 9138
Also available online.
(C) Nature Medicine press release.
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