At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers are studying stem cells and how they could potentially treat retinal diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa and Usher syndrome. These diseases destroy cells, known as photoreceptors, in the eyes. Scientists are attempting to grow photoreceptors from stem cells and then put them into eyes to replace the destroyed cells. When these newly created photoreceptors are put into the eye, they need to connect to other cells that transmit signals into the brain, which leads to vision. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that these photoreceptors can grow and connect only within 40 to 80 days of implantation. Afterward, they lose this ability. The researchers have also found that if these photoreceptor cells from stem cells are grown with motile retinal cells, the photoreceptor cells can attach to the motile cells and grow with them.
What this means for Usher syndrome: This research is still in the early stages, but can hopefully be used to improve photoreceptors grown from stem cells. One day, these cells could be implanted into the eye and replace destroyed cells.