Fish stem cells could light the way to optical breakthroughs – Stem …

A small, stripy fish about the length of a Brazil nut may hold the key to treating human vision loss, following a discovery by the universitys Allison Lab that could see fish stem cells helping humanity.

Zebrafish can selectively repair light-sensitive cells in their retinas. These cells, called cones, are what humans rely on for daytime vision and colour perception. Unlike humans, zebrafish have specialized stem cells in their eyes that allow them to repair these cones when necessary.

Alternatively, when humans suffer retinal damage their eyes cannot recuperate something that could change in light of this new research.

Understanding how to make cones out of stem cells will facilitate therapies to prevent and/or reverse vision loss, explained Michle DuVal, a graduate student and team member at the Allison Lab, in an email interview.

The regenerative response that naturally occurs in zebrafish eyes is incredibly refined.

But the move from tiny fish to humans can get complicated. Limited industry involvement, scant funding and the difficulty of running clinical trials all pose threats to the future of stem cell research especially on the national level.

There are a lot of things going on very actively in other corners of the world, and not so much in Canada, said Tania Bubela, an associate professor at the School of Public Health who has studied stem cells.

One of the impediments is the availability of good manufacturing practice (GMP) materials to actually put into patients.

The increased focus on moving from animal models to clinical trials signals a positive change in the field of stem cell research, according to Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and research director in the Law Faculty.

When stem cells first emerged in the late 90s, the focus was around the controversial nature of embryonic stem cell research, Caulfield said.

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