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A stem cell researcher was “beyond shock” at how easily stem cells taken from eyes reproduced in the lab. “Within seven days, they go from one cell to 7,000 to 10,000 cells,” said Brenda Coles of the University of Toronto, lead author of a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers from Toronto and Lausanne, Switzerland discovered that retinal cells were easy to obtain and the results of the tests on mice and chickens offer hope for curing certain types of blindness.

The cells were transplanted into the eyes of mice and embryonic chick eyes. The cells reproduced and were able to survive, migrate, integrate, and differentiate into all seven types of retinal tissue, especially as photoreceptors. The experiment suggests human retinal stem cells eventually may be valuable in treating human retinal diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

The mice and chick eyes “look perfectly normal,” said Coles. The next step of the research will be to see if blind mice can have their sight restored by the stem cell treatment. After more animal tests, the research could move on to human testing, but will probably take another decade, the researchers said.

The current tests, published in November, show promise especially since the animals had no problems with the cells reproducing uncontrollably, a common problem with embryo stem cell treatment. “They didn’t take over the eye, or cause any cancerous-type things or sit in inappropriate places,” said Coles. “They found their home and responded to the proper signals.”