Dr. Stephen Tsang of the Columbia University Medical Center in New York and colleagues said the findings suggest induced pluripotent stem cells -- derived from adult human skin cells but with embryonic properties -- could soon be used to restore vision in people with macular degeneration.
"With eye diseases, I think we're getting close to a scenario where a patient's own skin cells are used to replace retina cells destroyed by disease or degeneration," Tsang said in a statement. "It's often said that induced pluripotent stem cells transplantation will be important in the practice of medicine in some distant future, but our paper suggests the future is almost here."
Like embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells can develop into any type of cell.
None of these cells has been transplanted into people, but many ophthalmologists said the eye is the ideal testing ground.
"The eye is a transparent and accessible part of the central nervous system, and that's a big advantage," Tsang said. "We can put cells into the eye and monitor them every day with routine non-invasive clinical exams and in the event of serious complications, removing the eye is not a life-threatening event."
The study was published online in advance the print edition of Molecular Medicine