Retinal nerve cells grown in lab

  • Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have developed a method to efficiently turn human stem cells into retinal nerve cells that transmit visual signals from the eye to the brain for the first time

  • Death and dysfunction of these of retinal nerve cells cause loss of sight in conditions like glaucoma and multiple sclerosis (MS).
  • Using a genome editing laboratory tool, investigators inserted a fluorescent protein gene into the stem cells’ DNA. They used a technique called fluorescence-activated cell sorting to separate newly differentiated retinal ganglion (nerve) cells from a mixture of different cells into a highly purified cell population for the study.
  • The cells showed biological and physical properties seen in retinal ganglion cells produced


  • This work could lead to a cell-based human model that could be used to discover drugs that stop or treat blinding conditions.
  • Eventually, it could lead to the development of cell transplant therapies that restore vision in patients with glaucoma and MS.

Increasing efficiency

  • Researchers also found that adding a naturally occurring plant chemical called forskolin on the first day of the process helped improve the cells’ efficiency of becoming retinal cells.
  • The researchers, however, caution that forskolin, , is not scientifically proven to be safe.
  • In follow-up studies, the team is looking to find other genes that are important for ganglion cell survival and function.

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