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  (Source: frogsite.org)

The frog tadpole on the left was implanted with stem cells to give it a new eye, seen on the right. The discovery could one day restore sight in humans.  (Source: Michael Zuber)
Scientist help disabled frogs live fuller lives -- and hopefully someday humans too

Technology promises to cure many ailments in the near future, from paralysis to blindness.  In the case of blindness, the only question is whether an electronic gadget or an organic stem-cell driven solution will be the first to hit the market and gain mainstream acceptance.

Supporters of the stem cell approach got a big boost from new research at the SUNY Upstate Medical University, in Syracuse, NY.  Researcher Michael Zuber and his colleagues report that by taking stem cells from frog eggs, they're able to prod the cells to grow into eyes when attached to tadpoles, baby frogs.

In order to get the cells to become eyes, the team genetically modified them, inserting transcription factors (proteins that trigger expression of other genes) which are known to regulate eye growth and development.

The scientists then implanted the cells into tadpoles missing an eye.  The cells properly developed and differentiated into all seven types of retinal cells and appeared to have the proper structure.  Additionally the new eye attached properly to the brain.  In swimming tests the eye was shown to be working as implanted tadpoles only swam to the white side of the tank (normal behavior), while blind ones would also swim to the black side of the tank.

Would the technique work on mammals?  The answer is maybe -- frogs naturally have a much easier type regrowing tissues than humans, in fact they can be triggered to regrow legs and many amphibians can regrow lost tails.  Triggering proper differentiation in mammals is much more complex.

Nonetheless, Professor Zuber hopes that chemicals will be found from the research that can activate transcription factors in humans.  Even if a full eye could not be grown, this could help people with retinal disorders regenerate ocular tissue.

In a separate, but perhaps equally intriguing study performed by Sujeong Jang of Chonnam National University, in South Korea, and his colleagues, the researchers were able to restore the hearing of deaf guinea pigs by implanting them with human neural stem cells obtained from human bone marrow.




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