Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, researchers from University College London report producing rod-like photoreceptors from embryonic stem cells and successfully transplanting them into the retinas of mice.
The result suggests embryonic stem cells may one day lead to treatment for eye diseases sush retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration or other degenerative conditions that can cause loss of vision.
The researchers say they've developed a new method for growing embryonic stem cells that allows them to become immature eye cells and self-organize into three-dimensional structures similar to those seen in a developing retina.
In laboratory tests, the structures were transplanted into the retinas of night-blind mice where they integrated with the natural cells of the eye and formed synaptic connections, the MIT Technology Review reported Monday.
While the technique is probably years away from human trials, embryonic stem cells are already being tested in clinical trials in Japan for macular degeneration.
Researchers there say an alternative source of stem cells, dubbed induced pluripotent stem cells, will soon move into human trials as a treatment for eye disease.