Funky neon cells may help prevent blindness

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

Fluorescent cells could provide a new target for preventing blindness in age-related macular degeneration patients, scientists from the French Institute of Health and Medical Research and the Yale University School of Medicine reported.

Their research, which is detailed in a paper published earlier this month in the journal Nature Medicine, suggest that the nuclei of cells in blood vessels that supply blood to the eyes could be targeted to help keep AMD patients from losing sight in their aging eyes.

In their experiments, a team led by Alain Chédotal of the Institute of Vision in Paris genetically modified mice to block a protein called Slit2, and found that cell division in the retina was much slower, according to Gizmodo. Now they are working to determine if drugs could be developed to block this same protein in humans to prevent deterioration in the eye.

Allowing a blind man to ride his horse again

As they explained in their study, Slit-family proteins are ligands of Roundabout receptors that repel developing axons in the nervous system, and expression of those receptors can be altered in ocular diseases such as AMD. Blocking Slit2, the authors discovered, “could potentially be used therapeutically to inhibit angiogenesis in individuals with ocular neovascular disease.”

The cells that were found to be dividing can trigger an excessive increase in blood vessels in AMD, New Scientist explains, and blocking Slit2 could make it possible to reduce this effect. The altered mice no longer overproduced the blood vessels that can lead to the loss of sight, which indicates that drugs targeting these proteins could help AMD patients.

The website added that “pioneering treatments for AMD currently rely on replacing epithelial pigment cells in the retina that are damaged by the disease,” and that a team of US scientist was recently able to use “pigment cells made from human embryonic stem cells to reverse damaged sight, in one case allowing a blind man to ride his horse again.”

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