Scientists grow mini eyes in lab dishes to study blindness
Scientists have grown mini eyes from human cells in the lab. These eye organoids provide good models of the real thing to help scientists study diseases that cause blindness and potentially find treatments.
Growing organs in lab dishes isn’t new in itself. You could almost build an entire body out of the mini-organs scientists have conjured up over the years, including brains, hearts, lungs, kidneys, livers, stomachs, pancreases, blood vessels, bone marrow and even hair follicles. But there’s something particularly unnerving about eyes staring back at you from a Petri dish.
As with all organoids, these eyes started off as adult skin cells collected from donors. The scientists were able to turn these skin cells into what are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iSPCs), which can then be coaxed to form specific cell types. The resulting mini-organs are three dimensional models that mimic the real thing more accurately than standard cells in a dish, allowing scientists to use them to study development, disease and drugs.
In this case, researchers at University College London (UCL) wanted to see if they could get light-sensing rod cells to arrange themselves into layers, the way they appear in the retina. And they were successful, allowing the team to image these cells in more detail than ever before, using single-cell RNA sequencing.
“It’s difficult to study the inaccessible tiny nerve cells of the patient’s retina as they are so intricately connected and delicately positioned at the back of the eye,” said Dr. Yeh Chwan Leong, first author of the study. “By using a small biopsy of skin, we now have the technology to reprogram the cells into stem cells and then create lab-grown retina with the same DNA, and therefore same genetic conditions, as our patients.”
The genetic condition in question here is Usher syndrome, a rare birth defect that can leave a baby born deaf and with eyesight that degenerates by adulthood. By growing mini eyes from donors with and without Usher syndrome, the team was able to observe differences between the two. This could ultimately lead to clues for new treatments for the disease, as well as others like retinitis pigmentosa.
In future work, the team plans to grow more mini eyes using a wider range of patient samples, and test different drugs on them.
The research was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.
Source: University College London
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