Researchers at the Université de Montréal have made a significant breakthrough in the field of restoring vision for individuals suffering from degenerative retinal disease. The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by UdeM medical professor Michel Cayouette, who is also the director of cellular neurobiology research at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute.
The team discovered that dormant glial cells in the retina can be transformed into cells that share properties with cone photoreceptors. These cells play a vital role in allowing people to perceive colors, read, and drive. Inherited retinal degenerations occur when light-sensitive cells in the retina degenerate, leading to vision loss that can progress to total blindness. Although various techniques, such as gene therapy, can slow or block the progression of photoreceptor cell loss, they cannot restore lost cells, making them ineffective for patients in advanced stages of the disease.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop regenerative therapies that can replace lost cells and restore vision. One promising approach is to use stem cells to generate photoreceptors that can be transplanted into a patient’s eye. However, this technology faces significant challenges, which are impeding its use in clinical practice.
Researchers at the Université de Montréal have discovered a way to reactivate dormant cells in the retina, which could ultimately replace cells lost in retinal degeneration. The breakthrough approach, led by Professor Michel Cayouette and his team, involves the identification of two genes that can convert dormant Müller cells into retinal neurons. These cells are known to regenerate the retina in fish, but not in mammals, including humans. Doctoral student Ajay David praised this advance as an alternative to cell transplantation, with the potential to restore vision lost to pathological conditions. The researchers aim to perfect the effectiveness of the technique and promote the full maturation of cells into cone photoreceptors.