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Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Ophthalmology

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In the last few decades, stem cell research has developed groundbreaking technologies to both study and treat diseases. This research has proven fruitful for the field of ophthalmology, especially in recent years. With its relative immune privilege, the eye has proven an ideal testing ground for stem cell therapies.

This book describes just a few of these developing treatments. The authors of this book describe a wide range of possible applications, from oculofacial plastic surgery to the restoration of sight lost by degenerative disorders and glaucoma, to cancer research. Indeed, stem cell research seems to have reached a critical mass in ophthalmology. As recently as 2011, the FDA approved trials for stem cell-based treatments for macular degeneration; other clinical trials may follow, as discussed in the last chapter of this book.

These changes have not happened overnight. From a scientific standpoint, several discoveries have made stem cells a viable treatment source for humans. In 1981, when embryonic stem cells were first synthesized in the laboratory, it became possible to imagine generating graft tissues or animal models to test drugs from stem cells. Fifteen years later, the Yamanaka research group discovered that mouse skin samples could be reprogrammed through gene therapy into induced pluripotent cells. Both ES and iPS cells are pluripotent, or reprogrammable. Moreover, iPS cells are autologous, meaning they are derived from the subject’s own tissue. By modifying cell culture media or performing gene therapy, researchers have been able to generate many types of tissues using ES cells and iPS cells.

Autologous tissues can also be generated using the progenitor cells which exist naturally inside the body. Unlike pluripotent stem cells, progenitor cells can differentiate into a limited number of tissues. These “local” cells can be adapted to replace and repair diseased tissue. Promising progenitor cells include: adipose tissue stem cells, ciliary stem cells, mesenchymial stem cells, corneal stem cells, and lens stem cells.
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