US researchers say they have discovered a technique for directly reprogramming skin cells into light-sensing rod photoreceptors used for vision.
The lab-made rods enabled blind mice to detect light after the cells were transplanted into their eyes, they report in a paper in the journal Nature.
Until now, researchers have replaced dying photoreceptors in animal models by creating stem cells from skin or blood cells, programming those stem cells to become photoreceptors, which are then transplanted into the back of the eye.
The new study shows that it is possible to skip the stem-cell intermediary step and directly reprogram skins cells for transplantation into the retina.
Direct reprogramming involves bathing the skin cells in a cocktail of five small molecule compounds that together chemically mediate the molecular pathways relevant for rod photoreceptor cell fate.
“Of immediate benefit will be the ability to quickly develop disease models so we can study mechanisms of disease,” says co-author Anand Swaroop, from the National Eye Institute. “The new strategy will also help us design better cell replacement approaches.”
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