Inherited maculopathies, age related macular degeneration and some forms of retinitis pigmentosa are associated with impaired function or loss of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Among potential treatments, transplantation approaches are particularly promising. The arrangement of RPE cells in a well-defined tissue layer makes the RPE amenable to cell or tissue sheet transplantation. Different cell sources have been suggested for RPE transplantation but the development of a clinical protocol faces several obstacles. The source should provide a sufficient number of cells to at least recover the macula area. Secondly, cells should be plastic enough to be able to integrate in the host tissue. Tissue sheets should be considered as well, but the substrate on which RPE cells are cultured needs to be carefully evaluated. Immunogenicity can also be an obstacle for effective transplantation as well as tumorigenicity of not fully differentiated cells. Finally, ethical concerns may represent drawbacks when embryo-derived cells are proposed for RPE transplantation. Here we discuss different cell sources that became available in recent years and their different properties. We also present data on a new source of human RPE. We provide a protocol for RPE differentiation of retinal stem cells derived from adult ciliary bodies of post- mortem donors. We show molecular characterization of the in vitro differentiated RPE tissue and demonstrate its functionality based on a phagocytosis assay. This new source may provide tissue for allogenic transplantation based on best matches through histocompatibility testing.
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