Model systems for retinal disease research

Scientists at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the DFG Research Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) – Cluster of Excellence at the Technische Universität Dresden have created 3D retina tissue derived from stem cells.

04/21/2016

 
Photo: Coloured tissue sample under the microscope

Retinal Organoid under the microscope; ©CRTD

To generate these so called retina organoids, the researchers developed a novel protocol that is reliable and more efficient than previous methods. Based on these model systems they are planning to investigate eye diseases and potential strategies for treatment. They report on this in the scientific journal Stem Cell Reports.

Age-related macular degeneration and other diseases of the retina, which result in the progressive loss of neuronal cells in the eyes, are among the most frequent causes of impaired vision and blindness. To date, there are no cures for these diseases and knowledge on their mechanisms is scarce. "Stem cell based technologies promise new avenues to study these conditions in the laboratory. In particular, we will profit from human cell based disease model systems," explains Dr. Mike Karl, who leads a research group at the DZNE’s Dresden site and the CRTD.

Thus, Karl and his colleagues have developed a new protocol for the production of organ-like tissues, also called "organoids", which resemble the retina of mice and humans. These model systems are generated in cell culture from pluripotent stem cells, which have the power to develop into any type of cell in our body. The Biotechnology Center (BIOTEC) of the TU Dresden including the research group of Dr. Konstantinos Anastassiadis also participated in the project. From studying these retinal organoids the scientists hope to gain new insights on the causes of retinal diseases. "We thereby intend to facilitate the development of potential therapeutic drugs and treatment concepts," explains Karl.

Compared to previous methods, the Dresden scientists were able to significantly improve the production of 3D retina organoids. Their new approach results in high production efficiency and reproducibility. "Our experimental protocol reliably recapitulates key characteristics of retinal development in vivo. Furthermore, it offers flexibility. We could therefore tailor the organoids to specific questions that we want to study," comments DZNE researcher Manuela Völkner, lead author of the current publication. In particular, the researchers succeeded to raise the production of cone photoreceptor neurons. These sensory cells are essential for our color vision and high visual acuity, especially for reading. "We now have the means to produce larger amounts of these precious cells, which is a premise for certain studies. This includes basic research as well as studies in regenerative medicine," explains Karl. "For instance, several labs are pursuing the idea to restore vision due to cell loss by retinal cell transplantation. There is certainly a long way to go. But our model systems might help to develop such therapeutic strategies."

MEDICA-tradefair.com; Source: Center for Regenerative Therapies TU Dresden CRTD

Read more about the CRTD at: www.crt-dresden.de