Physician Entrepreneur

The Coming Effects of Stem Cells on Optometry

As an optical professional, you may have posters adorning your clinic illustrating the eye anatomy or various diseases. However due to recent innovations and breakthroughs in stem cell research for eye care, some of those malady illustrations may become a thing of the past. Through the use of differentiated cells originating from pluripotent stem cells, treatment methods have been able to preserve vision, halt disease progression, or completely restore vision by replacing damaged cells. Here we’ll detail the current direction of research and its effects on the industry:


Combating degenerative diseases and conditions

Disease families such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are progressive ailments that gradually diminish vision. New research and clinical trials have seen promising results in either halting vision loss or partially restoring it, accomplished using stem cell therapy where differentiated stem cells are injected into the eye.


Researchers at University of California, Irvine (UCI) are conducting trials where cells are injected into the vitreous where they will then release growth factors in an effort to preserve undamaged cones. In another trial, ReNeuron, a stem cell development business, uses the same cells but injectsthem directly behind the retina, where not only cones are preserved, but vision is restored when the cells mature and and integrate with the retina. These trials illustrate the varying effects and benefits of stem cell placement. Offering a diversity of potential treatments depending on disease severity.


Reducing the need for tissue and organ donors

Another potential use for stem cells is for the growth of tissue to replace damaged areas. In a collaboration between researchers from Osaka University and Cardiff University, they were able to transplantcorneal epithelial cells and restore vision. Using rabbits with induced blindness, tissues grown from stem cells were surgically replaced,and successfully recovered vision for the subject. Consequently, such methods would reduce future need for donors for cornea transplant, as tissue can be cultivated from the patients instead. Preventing issues such as tissue rejection and lack of donors.


Current difficulties and future outlook

Although much headway has been made with certain conditions, ones such as glaucoma continue to be difficult to combat using stem cell treatments, due in part to the challenges of successfully replacing retinal ganglion cells (RGC).In the meantime, researchers are instead focusing on trabecular meshwork (TM) cell replacement. Since a major part of glaucoma treatment is either using surgical implants or medication to lower intraocular pressure (IOP). Similar in method to the corneal cell transplant trial, a study found that stem cells induced into developing into TM cells can be used to restore function and fluid drainage in the TM.


While many of the noted research and trials are still undergoing evaluation and testing, it won’t be long before one is approved for regular treatment. One thing to note is that the field is turning toward cell replacement therapy through quick surgical procedures, either as one time surgeries or through multiple visits if using injections. All of which can potentially reduce the relying on medication-based treatments.




Eugenia Lin avidly enjoys writing about a variety of topics and currently writes on behalf of the LASIK surgeons at EyeCare 20/20. When not writing, she can be found spoiling her pet, Yeti, with treats or trying to be active outside on those typical Seattle rainy days. You can find her at LinkedIn.