Stem cell therapy to replace cone photoreceptors

Research details

  • Type of funding: Project Grant
  • Grant Holder: Dr Jane Sowden
  • Institute: UCL Institute of Child Health
  • Region: London
  • Start date: May 2012
  • End Date: July 2015
  • Priority:
  • Eye Category:


Human vision relies on two kinds of light-sensitive nerve cell in the retina at the back of the eye. Rod photoreceptor cells are used in dim light and night conditions, while cone photoreceptors are for seeing colour and fine detail in our central vision.

The leading cause of blindness in higher income countries is photoreceptor cell death in conditions that affect the retina. It’s permanent and there is no treatment that can give back lost vision. Sight loss is fastest and most severe when cones die.

Dr Sowden and team are trying to develop stem cell therapies to repopulate the retina. The idea is to transplant cells into the retina to replace the photoreceptors lost to illness.

Progress has been good and they have shown in mice that transplanted cells can become working rods. They have also had some success with cones but need to increase the numbers. So the aim of this project is to find out how.

Cone photoreceptor stem cell transplants could one day be a cure for blindness due to cone loss. Results from the study will help take the therapy towards clinical trials.