Researchers at the University of California Irvine have created an eight-layer, early-stage retina from human embryonic stem cells. This is the first three-dimensional tissue structure to be made from stem cells, the researchers say.

“We made a complex structure consisting of many cell types,” says study leader Hans Keirstead, Ph.D., of the Reese-Irvine Research Center and the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UCI. “This is a major advance in our quest to treat retinal disease.”

The researchers are currently testing these early-stage retinas in animal models to determine how much they improve vision. Positive results could lead to human trials, they predict.

“What’s so exciting with our discovery,” Dr. Keirstead says, “is that creating transplantable retinas from stem cells could help millions of people, and we are well on the way.”

Nistor G, Seiler MJ, Yan F, et al. Three-dimensional early retinal progenitor 3D tissue constructs derived from human embryonic stem cells. J Neurosci Methods. 2010 May 4. [Epub ahead of print].