According to medical knowledge, the death of neurons, whether in the eye or brain, can result in several neurodegenerative disorders for humans, including blindness and Parkinson’s disease. Currently available treatments for these diseases only show how the neurodegenerative disease is advancing, because once a neuron deceases, it cannot be replaced.
“In a bid to determine the process if neurons will regenerate in certain animals, a team of researchers at a few academic institutions have identified networks of genes that regulate the same. The study is the proof of the principle that shows it is possible to revive retinal neurons. This is indicative that the process for reviving neurons in the brain will be similar,” stated the co-author of the study.
Trials on animals establish reprogramming of cells
To establish this, the researchers depicted the genes of animals that have the ability to revived retinal neurons. For example, in the event of damage of retina in a zebrafish, the cells undergo reprogramming. During reprogramming, the cells alter their gene expression to become progenitor cells. Therefore, these progenitor-like cells can mimic role of any cell that is necessary to fix the damaged retina.
Likewise, humans also have cells that undergo reprogramming. However, in the event of damage of the human retina, the cells respond with gliosis, a process that stops them from reprogramming.
Meanwhile, after examining the varying animal processes for discovery of retina damage, the next step involved deciphering if reprogramming and gliosis were similar. “Would the reprograming cells follow the same path in regeneration and non-regeneration of animals, or they would take completely different paths?” said one of the associates of the study. This is really important, if we need to use reprogramming cells to regenerate retinal neurons in people.