Researchers Grow ‘Mini Eyes’ In A Laboratory To Assess Blindness In A Breakthrough Study

A breakthrough study published in the journal Stem Cell Reports has reported that researchers have successfully grown mini eyes in a laboratory to assess blindness caused by Usher syndrome.

Researchers Grow ‘Mini Eyes’ In A Laboratory To Assess Blindness In A Breakthrough Study 1

In order to study blindness in a rare genetic illness called Usher Syndrome, scientists have created “mini eyes” in a lab.

Researchers have developed retinal organoids, popularly known as 3D “mini eyes,” for the first time ever. They came from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) patients’ donated skin samples, which were used to create stem cells.

The journal Stem Cell Reports reported the findings of the study (pdf below).

Organizing the rod cells to imitate structure in the retina

Rod cells may be made to organise themselves into layers that mimic the retina’s structure, according to research from the University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (UCL GOS ICH) in the U.K. These rod cells are typically placed in the region of the back of the eye known for image processing in a healthy eye.

Researchers Grow ‘Mini Eyes’ In A Laboratory To Assess Blindness In A Breakthrough Study 2
3D ‘mini eye’ organoid grown from donated stem cells.

The ‘mini eyes’ represent a substantial advance in the right direction over earlier studies that relied on animal cells and were unable to replicate the extent of vision loss seen in Usher Syndrome.

What is Usher Syndrome?

Usher syndrome is the most common genetic cause of both sight loss and hearing loss. Retinitis pigmentosa, an eye condition that harms the retina and results in progressive vision loss, can also be brought on by it. Globally, the illness affects three to ten out of every 100,000 persons. Children with the specific Type 1 Usher syndrome are frequently born deaf, and as they age, their vision gets worse.

Although cochlear implants can help with deafness, there are currently no cures for Usher syndrome or retinitis pigmentosa-related blindness. Even though the research is still in its early phases, it can benefit those who are afflicted by the condition by offering hope and optimism for a potential breakthrough cure.

Viewing molecular changes in rod cells

Researchers are now able to study individual light-sensing cells from the human eye due to the creation of these “mini eyes.” This also allows the team to study the cells in more detail.

Researchers Grow ‘Mini Eyes’ In A Laboratory To Assess Blindness In A Breakthrough Study 3
Images of the retinal organoids, or ‘mini eyes’.

For the first time, researchers could see the chemical alterations that took place in the rod cells prior to their demise. This was made possible by the use of the potent single cell RNA-sequencing technique, or the method that makes it possible to view the data on individual cells.

Creating treatment options in the future using the information from studying ‘mini eyes’

The research team discovered that Müller cells are also involved in Usher syndrome while examining the “mini eyes”. The retina is supported structurally and metabolically by Müller cells. They support the preservation of the retina’s health and functionality.

Researchers found that aberrant genes are turned on in cells from Usher Syndrome patients, causing protein breakdown and stress reactions in the retina. They hope to someday turn off the aberrant genes that are triggered because they think doing so might stop the disease from progressing.

“Although a while off, we hope that these models can help us to one day develop treatments that could save the sight of children and young people with Usher syndrome,” said Jane Sowden, professor of Developmental Biology & Genetics at UCL, and senior author of the study. “In the future, it may be possible to edit a patient’s DNA in specific cells in their eyes to avoid blindness” she continued.

Read the study given below:

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