Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been working with stem cells to grow organoids in a petri dish that resemble the retina. One goal of the David Gamm lab is to be able to use cells from these organoids to replace the lost retinal cells in patients with an inherited retinal disease. The process of translating results shown in a controlled environment, like a petri dish, to an unpredictable one like a human eye is not always straightforward. In a recent publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they were able to successfully demonstrate that their lab grown cells were able to create new cellular connections, which is imperative for communicating visual sensory information from the retina to the brain.
What this means for Usher syndrome: Their work showed that photoreceptors, rods and cones, were the most common cell type forming new connections, which is significant for the possibility of applying this technology to future retinitis pigmentosa treatment.