Stem cells have unique features in that they are non-specialized cells that can duplicate indefinitely and potentially give rise to any type of cell in the body. For this reason, they represent a potential unlimited reservoir of cells that could restore tissues and replace cells that have been damaged by a pathology or a trauma and are unable to regenerate.
In ophthalmology, stem cells can already be used to restore corneal epithelium damaged by accidental exposure to chemicals. Many researches employ stem cells to restore the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), the degeneration of which leads to important pathologies such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), Stargardt disease and some forms of retinitis pigmentosa. Restoring the RPE – and its function in nourishing photoreceptors – can prevent the onset of these pathologies, and the successful results of many of the ongoing clinical studies allow us to foresee the approval of new stem cell-based therapies for clinical practice in the very near future.
Stem cell research is making great efforts also in the direction of replacing photoreceptors and the optic nerve fibers, in this case not only inhibiting blinding diseases but also potentially restoring lost vision, opening new frontiers in ophthalmology.