Doctors Use Adult (Not Embryonic) Stem Cells To Grow And Implant Petri-Dish Retina

The medical breakthrough could lead to cures for other diseases.

Doctors Use Adult (Not Embryonic) Stem Cells To Grow And Implant Petri-Dish Retina
[Photo: Flickr user Paul Hart]

The clones are coming! The clones are coming! (Maybe.) Doctors have grown a retina in a petri dish using stem cells from a 70-year-old patient’s skin and successfully transplanted the retina to her eye at Japan’s Riken Center for Developmental Biology.

This marks the first time a transplanted organ was grown from skin cells from the recipient and not an embryo, The Globe and Mail reports. Until now, scientists have been mired in a debate regarding the use of embryonic stem cells to create transplant tissue. Using a patient’s own adult stem cells avoids that controversy and also reduces the chance the patient could reject the transplant.

Stem cells hold the promise of curing many diseases, including macular degeneration and Parkinson’s.

However, there are risks associated with using adult stem cells. Scientists must turn regular adult cells into dividing cells, and there is concern that cells could turn cancerous after transplant. “You only need one stem cell left in the graft that could lead to cancer,” Dr. Janet Rossant told the The Globe and Mail. Rossant is chief of research at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The Riken Center for Developmental Biology has also been in the news lately because its deputy director committed suicide following accusations of scientific misconduct and the retraction of two papers (unrelated to this stem-cell procedure) that were published in the journal Nature.