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Future hope for macular degeneration patients

Updated: May 28, 2023

RETINAL CELL MAP COULD ADVANCE PRECISE THERAPIES FOR BLINDING DISEASES.

The following five paragraphs are an excerpt from NIH News Release:

NIH discovery sheds light on tissue targeted by age-related macular degeneration and other diseases.

“Researchers have identified distinct differences among the cells comprising a tissue in the retina that is vital to human visual perception. Scientists from the National Eye Institute (NEI) discovered five subpopulations of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)—a layer of tissue that nourishes and supports the retina’s light-sensing photoreceptors. Using artificial intelligence, the researchers analyzed images of RPE at single-cell resolution to create a reference map that locates each subpopulation within the eye. A report on the research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Michael F. Chiang, M.D., director of the NEI, part of the National Institutes of Health said:

“These results provide a first-of-its-kind framework for understanding different RPE cell subpopulations and their vulnerability to retinal diseases, and for developing targeted therapies to treat them,” said Michael F. Chiang, M.D., director of the NEI, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Kapil Bharti, Ph.D., the study’s lead investigator directing the NEI Ocular and Stem Cell Translational Research Section:

“The findings will help us develop more precise cell and gene therapies for specific degenerative eye diseases,” said the study’s lead investigator, Kapil Bharti, Ph.D., who directs the NEI Ocular and Stem Cell Translational Research Section.

Vision begins when light hits the rod and cone photoreceptors that line the retina in the back of the eye. Once activated, photoreceptors send signals through a complex network of other retinal neurons that converge at the optic nerve before traveling to various centers in the brain. The RPE sits beneath the photoreceptors as a monolayer, one cell deep.

Age and disease can cause metabolic changes in RPE cells that can lead to photoreceptor degeneration. The impact on vision from these RPE changes varies dramatically by severity and where the RPE cells reside within the retina. For example, late-onset retinal degeneration (L-ORD) affects mostly peripheral retina and, therefore, peripheral vision. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss, primarily affects RPE cells in the macula, which is crucial for central vision.

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