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The Future of Eye Health: Stem Cells

Posted by Elliot Franz | Posted on May 13, 2015

    Going to the dentist doesn’t evoke warm and fuzzy feelings. Especially when it comes to wisdom tooth extraction. However, new research from the University of Pittsburgh shows that stem cells from dental pulp can be transformed into corneal cells.

    The research was published in the journal STEM CELLS Translational Medicine is good news for those who have corneal blindness. Usually this form of blindness is treated with donor corneas, but there is a shortage of donors and not every cornea is a match.

    Experiments done by lead study author, Fatima Syed-Picard, Ph.D., showed that stem cells from a human wisdom tooth can be made into cells called keratocytes. The keratocytes were injected into the corneal cells of mice and they differentiated into corneal cells without rejection or other problems. While use on humans is many years away, this research shows that stem cells from a patient’s own body can be used to create corneal cells.

    Still, stem cells from wisdom teeth aren’t the only items in the research spotlight. Gene interactions have caught the eye of scientists. Researchers at the Neuroscience Center of Excellence at Louisiana State University (LSU) New Orleans have learned that gene interactions determine whether cells live or die in conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and ischemic stroke.

    Of course, the first question is: how can these two conditions be related? According to Nicolas Bazan, MD, PhD, Boyd Professor, Ernest C. and Yvette C. Villere Chair of Retinal Degeneration Research and Director of the Neuroscience Center, “The eye is a window to the brain.” Therefore, study of the eye and brain may help in developing treatments for blindness, stroke, and other conditions associated with the central nervous system.

    Bazan’s research was published in the journal Cell Death & Differentiation. His team discovered Neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1), a substance that protects cells. They worked with both human retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells as well as an experimental model of ischemic stroke and discovered that NPD1 governs interactions important for cell survival. NPDI protects photoreceptors in the eye and promotes neurological recovery from stroke.

    This research is also years away from being used in humans, but it points to an interesting trend. While drugs and vaccines have done a lot of good, the future of medicine may be found in our own cells, not necessarily synthesized compounds.

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