Human ESC–derived retinal epithelial cell sheets potentiate rescue of photoreceptor cell loss in rats with retinal degeneration
Replacing defective retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells with those derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) or human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) is a potential strategy for treating retinal degenerative diseases. Early clinical trials have demonstrated that hESC-derived or hiPSC-derived RPE cells can be delivered safely as a suspension to the human eye. The next step is transplantation of hESC/hiPSC-derived RPE cells as cell sheets that are more physiological. We have developed a tissue-engineered product consisting of hESC-derived RPE cells grown as sheets on human amniotic membrane as a biocompatible substrate. We established a surgical approach to engraft this tissue-engineered product into the subretinal space of the eyes of rats with photoreceptor cell loss. We show that transplantation of the hESC-RPE cell sheets grown on a human amniotic membrane scaffold resulted in rescue of photoreceptor cell death and improved visual acuity in rats with retinal degeneration compared to hESC-RPE cells injected as a cell suspension. These results suggest that tissue-engineered hESC-RPE cell sheets produced under good manufacturing practice conditions may be a useful approach for treating diseases of retinal degeneration.