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Reversing Sight Loss: Treating Optic Nerve Injuries with Stem Cells

Optic nerve injuries are the leading cause of irreversible blindness and visual impairment in the developed countries, affecting more than 80 million people worldwide.

Herman Cheung, James Knight Professor in the University of Miami College of Engineering’s (UMCoE) Department of Biomedical Engineering, teamed up with a group of researchers to explore the potential of stem cell-based treatment strategies as a means to reverse optic nerve injuries.

Currently, most optic nerve injuries have no effective treatment; however, there is intensive research on the protection of retinal ganglion cells (RGC) and the regeneration of axon cells. Coupled with research on neuron cells and previous research on the potential of human periodontal ligament‐derived stem cells (PDLSCs) for retinal cell replacement, Cheung examined whether human PDLSCs also enhance RGC survival and stimulate the regeneration of axons following an optic nerve crush (ONC) injury.

“We hope that these new results will promote the study of PDLSC transplantation and RGC protection in patients with optic nerve injuries,” Cheung says.

The researchers injected human PDLSCs into adult Fischer rats after an ONC injury. After weeks of observation, the rats experienced an increase in RGC survival and axonal regeneration with no signs of tumorigenic growth.

“In summary, our results revealed the neuroprotective role of human PDLSCs by strongly promoting RGC survival and axonal regeneration, indicating a therapeutic potential for RGC protection against optic injuries,” Cheung explains.

“This new study represents real progress in regenerative medicine and opens the door for new treatment options,” he says. “We hope this will lead to a therapy that could soon be made available.”

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