Degenerative eye diseases affect people as they grow old and may cause impaired vision. Researchers at Duke University show that umbilical cord stem cells could pave a way to effectively treat age-dependent macular degeneration and blindness through retinal growth.
The Duke researchers conducted a study on rats and found that the molecules present in the human umbilical cords can help in the growth of retinal neurons present in the rat’s eye. These neurons can grow, connect and survive. The retina is a thin layer of tissue found on the back of the eye, located close to the optic nerve. It contains the cells that respond to light. The retina receives the light from the lens and converts it into neural signals; send these signals to the brain for visual recognition. The communication between the synapses of the retina is crucial for vision. When the retina is affected, it may lead to the interruption in the communication of synapses and thus, the brain fails to recognize the focused image. This, in turn, causes blindness.
The communication between the retinal synapses is essential for vision otherwise the brain cannot process and analyze the image focused by the lens.
The study led by Cagla Eroglu, Duke University Medical Center found that the umbilical cord cells can help in the regeneration of retinal synapses thereby leading to recovery of vision in affected patients. After two years of research and experimentation, their study finding got published in the Journal of Neuroscience. In this study, Eroglu and team used an experimental set up to check the efficacy of umbilical cells in the regeneration of damaged retina. The team let the neurons and umbilical cord cells bathe in the same fluid and observed the changes for a period of one week.
The following were found:
- The umbilical cells and the neurons formed retinal synapses and sprouted branches, the neuritis – leading to additional connections.
- The cells survived longer in the bath with umbilical cells compared to the rat neuron bath without these cells.
- 3 specific proteins of umbilical cord cells were identified – Thrombospondin 1, 2 and 4; these proteins are responsible for the growth of connections observed in retinal neurons.
- The deficiency of these 3 proteins may contribute to the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and thus they could serve as a target for future research.
The researchers believe that this study will help to unravel the therapeutic mechanism of umbilical cord blood cells in treating blindness. The therapeutic potential of umbilical cord stem cells is growing every day. To know more, check Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Therapies