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What is a retinal stem cell? Narrated by Dr. Derek van der Kooy

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The study of retinal stem cells holds great promise for the treatment of diseases of the eye. The two most prominent areas of this research involve: 1) Understanding how to change retinal stem cells isolated from the eye into the various different cell types it contains. It is thought that one day we may be able to expand retinal stem cells in the lab and produce sufficient quantities of mature retinal cells (e.g. rods and cones) for transplantation after injury. 2) Using retinal stem cells as a model to identify novel pharmaceutical compounds that enhance their ability to divide and differentiate into mature cells. Such compounds could be used to enhance the limited regenerative capacity of the eye, and treat ocular disease without the use of cell transplantation.

Research fact sheet – Stem Cell Therapy (Foundation for Fighting Blindness) –
Derek van der Kooy (University of Toronto) –
The eye and stem cells: the path to treating blindness (EuroStemCell) –

Our eyes are the gateway to our most vivid impressions of the world around us.

Light passes through the cornea and lens, and is detected by the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye: the retina. From here, visual signals are transmitted to the brain. Photoreceptors are the specialized cells of the retina that detect light.

Most of the time, this system works well. However injury or disease can kill these photoreceptors, leading to impaired vision and blindness.

Retinal stem cells build all the different cells in the retina during development, but stop dividing after we’re born. Unlike many of our other tissues, the retina does not regenerate itself after injury and, for reasons we do not fully understand, retinal stem cells only create new photoreceptors when grown in plastic dishes in the lab.

Scientists are now studying new drugs capable of activating retinal stem cells to help the eye heal itself from the inside.

Narration by: Dr. Derek van der Kooy
Written & Directed by: Ben Paylor & Mike Long
Produced by: Infoshots –
Animation by: David Murawsky –
Sound by: James Wallace –
Funding by: Stem Cell Network and Canadian Stem Cell Foundation


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