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New Method for Mass-Producing RPE Cells Paves Way to Treating Age-Related Blindness

Durham, NC (PRWEB) April 12, 2013

Scientists have developed a new, simpler way to produce human pluripotent stem cells in quantities large enough that they can be used to develop treatments for age-related macular degeneration — the leading cause of irreversible blindness among the elderly. The results of this new study are published in the current issue of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects up to 50 million people worldwide, is associated with the dysfunction and death of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells.

“As a result, there has been significant interest in developing RPE culture systems both to study AMD disease mechanisms and to provide substrate for possible cell-based therapies. Because of their indefinite self-renewal, human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have the potential to provide an unlimited supply of RPE-like cells,” noted Donald Zack, M.D., Ph.D., who with Julien Maruotti, Ph.D., led the team of researchers from the Wilmer Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., and the Institute of Vision in Paris in conducting the study.

“However, most of the currently accepted methods in use for deriving RPE cells from hPSC involve time-and-labor-consuming steps done by hand, and they don’t yield large enough amount of the differentiated cells – which has posed a problem when trying to use them to develop potential new therapies,” Dr. Maruotti added.

The Zack/Maruotti team simplified RPE cell production by modifying a standard protocol for isolating the cells from spontaneously differentiating hPSC monolayers. In the new method, hPSCs were amplified by clonal propagation and the RPE cells enriched by serial passage rather than mechanical picking.

“These modifications eliminate the need for the time- and labor consuming manual steps usually required to culture hPSCs and to purify the RPE population, and thereby provide a readily scalable approach to generate large numbers of high quality RPE cells — up to 36 times more than the best protocols previously reported during the same time interval,” Dr. Zack said.

“This improved process represents a step toward mass production of RPE and could prove useful for applications requiring large number of cells such as cell therapy, drug screening or disease modelling,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., Editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.


The full article, “A simple and scalable process for the differentiation of retinal pigment epithelium from human pluripotent stem cells,” can be accessed at

About STEM CELLS Translational Medicine: STEM CELLS TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE (SCTM), published by AlphaMed Press, is a monthly peer-reviewed publication dedicated to significantly advancing the clinical utilization of stem cell molecular and cellular biology. By bridging stem cell research and clinical trials, SCTM will help move applications of these critical investigations closer to accepted best practices.

About AlphaMed Press: Established in 1983, AlphaMed Press with offices in Durham, NC, San Francisco, CA, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, publishes two other internationally renowned peer-reviewed journals: STEM CELLS® (, in its 31st year, is the world's first journal devoted to this fast paced field of research. The Oncologist® (, also a monthly peer-reviewed publication, entering its 18th year, is devoted to community and hospital-based oncologists and physicians entrusted with cancer patient care. All three journals are premier periodicals with globally recognized editorial boards dedicated to advancing knowledge and education in their focused disciplines.

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