Biologists from IUPUI, growing human pluripotent stem cells derived from retinal ganglion cells in the lab, have developed a way to create more mature models that better mimic the environment in the human retina. By introducing hPSC-RGCs into astrocytes, researchers can create cells that are more analogous to human RGCs and can be used additionally to study diseases such as glaucoma. These results are published online at Stem Cell Reports,
Jason Meyer, associate professor of biology at the School of Science at IUPUI, uses hPSC-derived retinal organoids to better understand the development and maturation of retinal ganglion cells. These cells transmit visual information to the brain, and when this connection is disturbed, one loses sight. But RGCs do not exist and function only in the retina; astrocytic cells are vital to provide support and instructions for retinal ganglia cells.
"Astrocyte is found in the retina, but very specific in relation to retinal ganglion cells," Meyer says. "They are located around the cells of the retinal ganglia and the optic nerve that connects to the brain, so we have found that they play an important role in the development and functioning of these RGCs."
Biology researcher and first author of the report, Kirstin B. VanderWall, has created a system of growing RGC alone or with astrocytes to see how astrocytes affect the growth and maturation of these cells.
"What we have found is that astrocytes accelerate differentiation and provide a retinal ganglion cell that works more properly and acts rather like we would expect these cells to function in the human retina," Meyer said.
RGCs are cells that are primarily damaged by glaucoma, a disease that is the second leading cause of blindness. These findings will guide the development of a more appropriate model to investigate how cells are affected in diseases such as glaucoma and could lead to a laboratory pattern of the disease.
"Glaucoma does not develop into immature cells that continue to grow, we want the cells we are studying to be as close to the stage when they start developing problems," Meyer said. "In the end, what we found was that these retinal ganglia cells themselves have some maturation characteristics, but we can raise them with astrocytes."
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