Stem cell therapy has long been considered a promising mode of treatment for retinal conditions. While human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) have provided the precedent for regenerative medicine, the development of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) revolutionized this field. iPSCs allow for the development of many types of retinal cells, including those of the retinal pigment epithelium, photoreceptors, and ganglion cells, and can model polygenic diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. Cellular programming and reprogramming technology is especially useful in retinal diseases, as it allows for the study of living cells that have genetic variants that are specific to patients’ diseases. Since iPSCs are a self-renewing resource, scientists can experiment with an unlimited number of pluripotent cells to perfect the process of targeted differentiation, transplantation, and more, for personalized medicine. Challenges in the use of stem cells are present from the scientific, ethical, and political realms. These include transplant complications leading to anatomically incorrect placement, concern for tumorigenesis, and incomplete targeting of differentiation leading to contamination by different types of cells. Despite these limitations, human ESCs and iPSCs specific to individual patients can revolutionize the study of retinal disease and may be effective therapies for conditions currently considered incurable.
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