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Highlights in Chemical Biology

Chemical biology news from across RSC Publishing.

Retinal repair

30 April 2007

Polymer scaffolds could one day be used to fix damaged eyes.

A team of US researchers has developed a plastic scaffold for retinal cells, which can be implanted in the eye and used to replace diseased or damaged cells.

"The scaffold rests against the back of the eye, allowing the cells to grow gradually outwards into the retina and replace old, damaged cells."
The retina is a layer of cells across the back of the eye, which collects light and sends signals to the brain. If it becomes damaged, through accident, illness or aging, then sight is impaired or lost. The new, 1mm wide scaffold holds a layer of retinal progenitor cells, which can differentiate into the types of cell needed to make a new section of retina. It rests against the back of the eye, allowing the cells to grow gradually outwards into the retina and replace old, damaged cells.

Retinal progenitor cells proliferating on a polymer scaffold

Retinal progenitor cells proliferate on polymer scaffolds

The scaffold is made of the same material as hard contact lenses, poly(methyl methacrylate), and is only 6m thick. Previous attempts to repair retinas in this way have used scaffolds more than twenty times thicker, and implanting them has often caused more damage than they have been able to repair.

The group behind the research, led by Tejal Desai at the University of California in San Francisco, tested both flat scaffolds and scaffolds containing a regular grid of pores. They found that cells stay attached to porous scaffolds more easily, making them a better way to transport the cells to the back of the eye.

Desai believes that scaffolds are the most promising method to fix retinal damage. 'Retinal progenitor cells alone are insufficient to recreate the complex structure of the retina, particularly when multiple retinal layers have been lost or disrupted,' she said. 'Our scaffolds influence retinal progenitor cell attachment, promote differentiation and provide a physical guide for normal anatomical organisation of the cells.'

Clare Boothby

Read more about tissue engineering in the June special issue of Lab on a Chip: 'Cell and Tissue Engineering Microsystems.'

Link to journal article

Survival, migration and differentiation of retinal progenitor cells transplanted on micro-machined poly(methyl methacrylate) scaffolds to the subretinal space
Sarah Tao, Conan Young, Stephen Redenti, Yiqin Zhang, Henry Klassen, Tejal Desai and Michael J. Young,Lab Chip, 2007, 7, 695
DOI: 10.1039/b618583e