Drs. Sally Temple, Tim Blenkinsop at the Neural Stem Cell Institute in Rensselaer, and Enrique Salero, now at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Fl., identified a population of adult stem cells that is readily accessible in the eye. These cells, found in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), lie dormant throughout life, but when removed from the eye in a standard procedure, the cells begin to multiply. Testing their ability to produce other cells types, Drs. Temple, Blenkinsop and Salero found that these RPE stem cells have the potential to produce large numbers of stable differentiated RPE cells that could be used for RPE replacement therapies for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. In addition, the RPESCs showed plasticity and could produce other types of neural cells, plus, surprisingly mesenchymal cells that produce bone, cartilage and fat. In their study, RPE tissue was collected from cadavers ranging in age from 22 to 99, suggesting that everyone harbors these cells in their eyes. This, combined with the ability of these cells to divide extensively in the lab, makes them a good source candidate for cell replacement therapies. This work was supported by NYSTEM awards to Dr. Temple (contract #C024414) and Dr. Salero (contract #C024399).
Salero E, Blenkinsop TA, Corneo B, Harris A, Rabin D, Stern JH, Temple S. Adult human RPE can be activated into a multipotent stem cell that produces mesenchymal derivatives. Cell Stem Cell. 2012 Jan 6;10(1):88-95.