Groundbreaking eye surgery in Kobe offers hope to sight impaired

KOBE–Surgeons at a hospital here performed a transplant that could transform the treatment of eye disorders.

Kobe City Eye Hospital announced on Oct. 16 the transplant operation involving photoreceptor cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

The female patient in her 60s was diagnosed with pigmentary degeneration of the retina, which can lead to loss of vision.

The transplant was the third type involving the treatment of eye disorders through the use of iPS cells, but the first attempt to correct a problem in the part of the eye that is essential to sight.

About 40,000 individuals in Japan suffer from pigmentary degeneration of the retina, which leads to reduced vision in areas with little light or advanced tunnel vision. Until now, there has been no established treatment for the disorder.

The research team created undeveloped retina tissue aimed at eventually forming into photoreceptor cells by using iPS cells stored at Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application.

The tissue was formed into a sheet and transplanted into the woman’s eye. If everything goes according to plan, the cells should develop into photoreceptor cells.

If those cells then become attached to nerves reaching the brain, the woman will have better vision.

The primary purpose of the operation was to confirm the safety of the transplanted cells over a one-year period. Doctors will periodically check to see if the transplanted cells are rejected by the body or if tumors develop from those cells.

Other tests on the patient’s vision will also determine if the transplant works as a method to treat eye disorders.

The first instance in which iPS cells were used to treat eye disorders was in 2014 when a team at the Riken research institute transplanted pigment epithelial cells to a patient diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration.

In 2019, a team at Osaka University transplanted corneal epithelial cells to patients with corneal epithelial stem cell impoverishment syndrome.

(This article was written by Nami Sugiura and Kenji Tamura.)

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