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Teaching old cells new tricks

New measurements reveal differences between stem cells for treating retinal degeneration

Michael Dyer, Dan Hiler, and Xiang Chen collaborating in the lab

Hopes for teaching “old” cells new tricks got a boost from research led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists.

They have developed a new way to make replacement eye cells from adult nerve cells. The process involves coaxing mature cells to return to an immature state. These are the induced pluripotent stem cells that can then be reprogrammed to become different adult cells. One promising use of the cells is to restore vision lost to age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and Stargardt’s disease.

The scientists also found a way to compare the ability of different types of stem cells to create specialized eye cells called retinal cells. Investigators learned that stem cells from certain eye cells produce more vision replacement cells than do certain skin stem cells.

“This research helps to answer an important scientific question by showing that the source of the stem cell makes a difference,” said Michael Dyer, PhD, St. Jude Developmental Neurobiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. The research was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

July 2, 2015

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