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Methods Mol Biol. 2006;330:401-16.

Differentiation of embryonic stem cells to retinal cells in vitro.

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  • 1Department of Ophthalmology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE, USA.


Currently, there is no effective treatment for photoreceptor degeneration, the most common cause of blindness caused by diseases like retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. Two promising approaches include cell therapy to replace degenerating cells and neuroprotection to rescue affected cells from premature death. Determination of the potential of embryonic stem (ES) cells to differentiate into photoreceptors will provide reagents for both approaches. First, neural progenitors with retinal potential will be available in unlimited supply to test the efficacy of cell therapy; second, the controlled differentiation of ES cells into photoreceptors, in addition to providing cells to replace degenerating photoreceptors, will offer a robust in vitro model of photoreceptor differentiation for better understanding of degenerative processes and screening of neuroprotective drugs/reagents. In addition, it will allow the identification of genes (gene discovery) that play critical roles in photoreceptor differentiation and degeneration. Here, we describe the protocol to promote differentiation of the mouse ES cell-derived neural progenitors into retinal cells, specifically the rod photoreceptors.

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