Education | 13 November 2018

Experimental Transplant of Retinal Pigment Epithelium for Ophthalmic Disease

Replacement of damaged cells is one avenue of research that aims to develop treatments for ophthalmic diseases. While there are no currently approved treatments of this type, work is ongoing in the pre-clinical space to develop interventions. Recently, researchers in Spain successfully conducted an experiemental transplant in pigs of one type of retinal cell called 'retinal pigment epithelial cell'. These very specific cells were made in the laboratory from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), a technique that could, in the future, enable human retinal cells to be made from another human tissue, for example a skin sample. In this experiment, the surgical procedure successfully transplanted a retinal cell layer, that had been grown in a matrix in the lab from iPSC, into the pig retina. 

The experiment was carried out as part of a collaboration between researchers from the Andalusian Center for Molecular Biology and Regenerative Medicine (CABIMER), the Andalusian Initiative in Advanced Therapies (IATA) and the University of Granada, together with the Clinical Simulation Center of Granada and ophthalmologists from the Virgen Macarena University Hospital in Seville. This first surgical test has shown positive results and constitutes the first step of a preclinical study with the goal to provide therapeutic options for retinal degenerative diseases. The work has been led by Francisco Díaz Corrales, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Professor Shom S. Bhattacharya in CABIMER, and has been designed to treat Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The cells were grown on a nanostructured matrix developed by the Tissue Engineering group of the Histology Department of the University of Granada.


The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is a layer of cells in the retina behind the photoreceptors that is necessary for vision. The RPE is affected in different ophthalmological diseases, such as AMD. In recent years, several international research groups have been working to replace the damaged retinal pigment epithelium by an implant of new cells differentiated in the laboratory from stem cells or induced pluripotent cells. .

Although there is a long way to go before this type of advanced therapy can be applied to patients with ophthalmic diseases where the RPE is damaged, this experimental transplant is an important step. It verifies the safety and efficacy of the transplant of this retinal cell layer that has been grown in the laboratory from induced pluripotent cells.

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