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Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2007 Dec;18(6):805-18. Epub 2007 Sep 16.

Towards therapeutic application of ocular stem cells.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy.


The first example of cell therapy using cultured stem cells dates back to 1981, when it was demonstrated that human epidermis could be grown in the laboratory and transplanted onto burnt patients to reconstitute a functional epidermis [Green H, Kehinde O, Thomas J. Growth of cultured human epidermal cells into multiple epithelia suitable for grafting. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1979;76(11):5665-8; Banks-Schlegel S, Kehinde O, Green H. Grafting of burns with cultured epithelium prepared from autologous epidermal cells. Lancet 1981;1:75-8; Gallico 3rd GG, O'Connor NEMJ, Compton CC, Kehinde O, Green H. Permanent coverage of large burn wounds with autologous cultured human epithelium. N Engl J Med 1984;311(7):448-51]. This was the onset of regenerative medicine, which is now being developed also in many other fields including ophthalmology. Emerging cell therapies for the restoration of sight have focused on two areas of the eye that are critical for visual function, the cornea and the retina. The relatively easy access of the cornea, the homogeneity of the cells forming the different layers of the corneal epithelium and the improvement of cell culture protocols are leading to considerable success in corneal epithelium restoration. Rebuilding the entire cornea is however still far from reality. The restoration of the retina has recently been achieved in different animal models of retinal degeneration using immature photoreceptors, and two other promising strategies have been demonstrated: transplantation of endothelial precursors to rescue retinal vessels and neurons, and transplantation of retinal pigmented epithelial cells to preserve vision over the long term. The relevance of these approaches will be discussed in function of the disease targeted.

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