Hopeful progress in retina cell research for battling blindness

A nanofibrous scaffold with fluocinolone acetonide enhances culturing of retinal pigment epithelial cells.


A groundbreaking advancement in vision research has offered renewed hope for treating blindness. This significant breakthrough revolves around retina cells and their potential to revolutionize how they address visual impairments.

Researchers have used tiny nanotechnology to help with a big problem – losing eyesight. They’ve devised a way to make a 3D structure that can grow special cells from the part of the eye called the retina. It could lead to new treatments for a common cause of blindness.

Research led by Professor Barbara Pierscionek from Anglia Ruskin University has figured out how to grow these particular cells, called retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells that stay healthy for a long time – up to 150 days. These cells are essential because they sit outside the part of the eye that helps us see, and if they get hurt, our vision can get worse.

They used a new method called ‘electrospinning’ to make a structure where these cells could grow. It could change how we treat a problem called age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common reasons people have trouble seeing.

When they treat the scaffold with fluocinolone acetonide, which helps against swelling, the cells become more potent and grow better. These findings are essential for creating eye tissues that could be used in transplants.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a big reason people lose their eyesight, especially as they age. More and more people might have this problem in the future because of our aging population. Researchers think that around 77 million people in Europe could have some form of AMD by 2050.

AMD can happen when certain parts of the eye change. The support layer called Bruch’s membrane and the blood vessels near it, called choriocapillaris, can have problems, leading to this eye issue.

In many Western countries, the most common reason for losing eyesight is a buildup of fat deposits called drusen. This can damage parts of the eye, like the RPE, choriocapillaris, and outer retina. In other parts of the world, a problem called AMD is often caused by blood vessels growing abnormally in the choroid and then moving into the RPE cells. This can lead to bleeding, the RPE, or the retina getting detached and forming scars.

One way to treat eye problems like AMD is to replace the damaged RPE cells. Researchers are trying to find good ways to put new RPE cells into the eye. This could help treat these sight conditions effectively.

Study author Professor Barbara Pierscionek, Deputy Dean (Research and Innovation) at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said, “This research has demonstrated, for the first time, that nanofibre scaffolds treated with the anti-inflammatory substance such as fluocinolone acetonide can enhance the growth, differentiation, and functionality of RPE cells.

Before, researchers used to grow cells on flat surfaces, unlike how they grow naturally in the body. With these new methods, cells are doing well in a 3D environment made by the scaffolds.

This new system could be used as a replacement for Bruch’s membrane, which can cause eye problems when it gets damaged. This substitute is made of safe and stable materials in the body. It could be a big help for people with conditions like AMD, and it’s an exciting discovery that might help many people worldwide.

In conclusion, the retina cell breakthrough marks a significant stride towards combating blindness and ushering in a new era of vision restoration. While much work is ahead, this discovery fuels optimism for developing groundbreaking therapies that could ultimately transform the lives of millions affected by visual impairments.

Journal Reference:

  1. Biola F. Egbowo, Enzo Fornari, et al., Retinal pigment epithelial cells can be cultured on fluocinolone acetonide treated nanofibrous scaffold. Materials and Design. DOI: 10.1016/j.matdes.2023.112152.
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