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Prog Retin Eye Res. 2011 May;30(3):149-66. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2011.02.001. Epub 2011 Feb 23.

Vascular stem cells and ischaemic retinopathies.

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Centre for Vision and Vascular Science, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science, Queen's University Belfast, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast BT12 6BA, Northern Ireland, UK.


Retinal ischaemic disorders such as diabetic retinopathy and retinal vein occlusion are common. The hypoxia-related stimuli from oxygen-deprived neural and glial networks can drive expression of growth factors and cytokines which induce leakage from the surviving vasculature and/or pre-retinal and papillary neovascularisation. If left untreated, retinal vascular stasis, hypoxia or ischaemia can lead to macular oedema or fibro-vascular scar formation which are associated with severe visual impairment, and even blindness. Current therapies for ischaemic retinopathies include laser photocoagulation, injection of corticosteroids or VEGF-antibodies and vitreoretinal surgery, however they carry significant side effects. As an alternative approach, we propose that if reparative intra-retinal angiogenesis can be harnessed at the appropriate stage, ischaemia could be contained or reversed. This review provides evidence that reperfusion of ischaemic retina and suppression of sight-threatening sequelae is possible in both experimental and clinical settings. In particular, there is emphasis on the clinical potential for endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) to promote vascular repair and reversal of ischaemic injury in various tissues including retina. Gathering evidence from an extensive published literature, we outline the molecular and phenotypic nature of EPCs, how they are altered in disease and provide a rationale for harnessing the vascular reparative properties of various cell sub-types. When some of the remaining questions surrounding the clinical use of EPCs are addressed, they may provide an exciting new therapeutic option for treating ischaemic retinopathies.

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