Non-embryonic human stem cells soon could be used to treat or even cure age-related macular degeneration, according to a study in the March 27 online edition of Stem Cells.

While some current treatments for AMD, including anti-VEGF therapy, can slow disease progression, there is no available cure.

But, the recent discovery of human-induced pluripotent stem (hiPS) cells may allow researchers to use a patient’s own stem cells to generate retinal tissues and cells for transplantation.

For viable transplantation, however, the naive hiPS cells must be properly “programmed” to possess the characteristics of the patient’s retinal pigment epithelium (RPE).

“This is the first time that hiPS-RPE cells have been produced with the characteristics and functioning of the RPE cells in the eye. That makes these cells promising candidates for retinal regeneration therapies in age-related macular degeneration,” says lead author Nady Golestaneh, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Georgetown University Medical Center’s department of biochemistry and molecular & cellular biology.

Dr. Golestaneh noted that additional research must be done before this procedure could become a mainstream treatment option for AMD. “We identified some issues that need to be worked out before these cells are ready for transplantation—but, overall, this is a tremendous step forward in regenerative medicine,” she said. “The next step in this research is to focus on a generation of ‘safe’ as well as viable hiPS-derived somatic cells.”

Kokkinaki M, Sahibzada N, Golestaneh N. Human iPS-derived retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells exhibit ion transport, membrane potential, polarized VEGF secretion and gene expression pattern similar to native RPE. Stem Cells. 2011 Mar 27. [Epub ahead of print]