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New retinal cells can be grown from your own skin

Researchers at Boston's Schepens Eye Research Institute were able to re-grow parts of the retina by using stem cells obtained from skin. Results of this study open up a wide range of possible treatments for age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other retinal disorders. Skin cells from the tails of red fluorescent mice were used in the study. With additional chemical coaxing, these cells generated stem cells which in turn created precursors of retinal cells. These cells were then transplanted into the eyes of a mouse with retina degenerative disease. Within 4 to 6 weeks of the transplant, researchers noted that these cells had successfully taken up residence in the photoreceptor layer of the eye and had begun to transform into healthy looking retinal tissue. Further evaluation of the mouse showed that there was a significant increase in electrical activity in the retinal tissue where there had previously been no electrical activity. While the electrical activity was almost half of what normally occurs in a retina, the change was still significant. Researchers are encouraged by the results of the study and believe that harvesting skin cells will play a prominent role in developing future therapies.* Elise Ervin Staff Writer

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