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Research on RPE cells suggests future treatment for glaucoma patients.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., February 22, 2017 -- Scientific research builds its own momentum as one discovery triggers another, building an ongoing wave of unexpected possibilities. In the world of glaucoma, such a surge began when advances in stem cell research opened doors experts had never imagined.

With this new perspective, they began to consider innovative ways to use specialized cells in the eye, like retinal pigment epithelial cells and ganglion cells.

Today researchers continue to follow that path, knowing that each small step they take may lead to future glaucoma treatments.

Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE) Cells

Most people know at least a little about the retina, a thin tissue an inch in diameter that contains all the photoreceptor cells responsible for beginning vision and their circuits that produce signals that become vision.

Beneath the retina is a sheet of black cells called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) that supports the retina, but also renews daily the light-absorbing pigments contained in the rod and cone photoreceptors.

They enhance vision by absorbing scattered light and ensure survival of photoreceptor cells by delivering nutrients.

They also serve as a barrier that blocks damaging substances from getting into the retina, and stop free radicals before they can damage the retina.

The retinal pigment epithelial cells are shaped like a hexagon, so they fit together as tight as a puzzle. Tiny projections extend from RPE cells, reach out to cover photoreceptor cells and carry nutrients into the cells. When RPE cells are damaged, photoreceptor cells die, ultimately leading to blindness.

RPE Cells And Glaucoma

Glaucoma doesn't typically damage RPE cells, but thanks to advances in stem cell research, it looks like RPE cells may play a crucial role in finding a cure to the degenerative disease.

Experts have been studying stem cells for the last seven decades: their time and effort are beginning to pay off.

Researchers have discovered that mature stem cells from various places in the body can be removed and injected with a combination of genes that reprogram the adult cells back into their fresh embryonic state, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

In the lab, adult stem cells taken from bone marrow have been reprogrammed to grow into various eye cells.

When certain induced pluripotent stem cells are grown together with RPE cells, they can be reprogrammed into photoreceptor cells and other retinal cells.

It may even be possible to develop a group of protective nerve cells in the retina--retinal ganglion cells--that are damaged by glaucoma.

While these amazing discoveries have yet to take shape as a viable treatment option for glaucoma, they certainly make it possible to believe that research using RPE cells may one day lead to a novel stem cell therapy.

Citation: News release, Glaucoma

Research Foundation

Contact: GRF, 251 Post Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94108; (415) 986-3162, (800) 826-6693;

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Title Annotation:Backgrounder: Glaucoma Research
Publication:Stem Cell Business News
Date:Mar 6, 2017
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