Experts give human eyes new life after death • Earth.com

Experts give human eyes new life after death

05-16-2022

Today’s Video of the Day from the University of Utah Health describes groundbreaking research by scientists who have managed to revive cells in organ donor eyes and restore communication between them.

A team of researchers at the John A. Moran Eye Center used the retina as a model of the central nervous system to investigate how neurons die. This led to the development of new methods to revive specialized neurons, known as photoreceptors, in organ donor eyes.

“We were able to wake up photoreceptor cells in the human macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for our central vision and our ability to see fine detail and color,” explained study lead author Dr. Fatima Abbas. “In eyes obtained up to five hours after an organ donor’s death, these cells responded to bright light, colored lights, and even very dim flashes of light.”

Once the experts had managed to revive the photoreceptors, they found that the cells had lost their ability to communicate with other cells in the retina. The researchers determined that this was due to a lack of oxygen. 

Dr. Anne Hanneken of Scripps Research overcame this challenge by obtaining organ donor eyes in under 20 minutes from the time of death. In addition, Dr. Frans Vinberg designed a transportation unit to restore oxygenation and other nutrients to organ donor eyes.

Dr. Vinberg also designed a new device to stimulate the retina and measure the electrical activity of its cells. For the first time ever, the team was able to restore a specific electrical signal seen in living eyes – the “b wave.” 

“We were able to make the retinal cells talk to each other, the way they do in the living eye to mediate human vision,” said Dr. Vinberg. “Past studies have restored very limited electrical activity in organ donor eyes, but this has never been achieved in the macula, and never to the extent we have now demonstrated.”

“The scientific community can now study human vision in ways that just aren’t possible with laboratory animals. We hope this will motivate organ donor societies, organ donors, and eye banks by helping them understand the exciting new possibilities this type of research offers.”

Dr. Hanneken said the ability to produce viable patches of human retinal tissue could lead to new therapies for blinding diseases.

“Until now, it hasn’t been possible to get the cells in all of the different layers of the central retina to communicate with each other the way they normally do in a living retina,” explained Dr. Hanneken. “Going forward, we’ll be able to use this approach to develop treatments to improve vision and light signaling in eyes with macular diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration.”

Video Credit: John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

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