In what could prove to be an effective treatment against vision loss, scientists from Johns Hopkins University have developed for the first time, a method to transform human stem cells into retinal nerve cells that can transmit visual signals from the eye to the brain.
Death and dysfunction of retinal cells may lead to vision loss conditions such as glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. Researchers for the experiment genetically modified a line of human embryonic stem cells by using a genome editing tool called CRISPR–Cas9 to insert a fluorescent protein POU4F2 into the stem cells’ DNA. The protein would, however, be expressed only if another gene named BRN3B is simultaneously expressed. BRN3B would be expressed once a cell is differentiated into retinal ganglion cell.
Thereafter, scientists separated the newly differentiated retinal ganglion cells from a mixture of different cells into a highly purified cell population. The cells henceforth, displayed biological and physical properties that were seen in the retinal ganglion cells. It was also found that adding a naturally occurring plant chemical called ‘forskolin’ on the first day of the process improved the efficiency of the cells of becoming the retinal ganglion cells.