Over 10 million older Americans suffer from macular degeneration, in which the retina's central macula gradually breaks down. Researchers still haven't found an effective way to stanch this deterioration. But a few months ago a team of UC Irvine researchers discovered a way to circumvent this vexing dilemma: just grow a new retina.
In the study, scientists coaxed stem cells into forming a fully three-dimensional tissue structure. They got the embryonic stem cells to differentiate into all the different retinal precursor cells (the gorgeously stained cells in the picture above) by bathing them in specially prepared solutions meant to mimic their natural environment. After testing the technique on animals to see if it can at least partially restore sight, the researchers hope to create lab-grown, transplantable retinas that could be used to treat the millions who suffer from eye disease.