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Eureka moment could spur blindness cure

A Bond University researcher who turns stem cells into human eye cells says the breakthrough could potentially cure the leading cause of blindness in Australia.

"This to me was eureka!" said Jason Limnios of the moment he successfully grew retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells in the laboratory.

"I had modelled what it might take to make this happen and within the first few experiments it just worked. I tried to call my mum and I couldn't speak."

The treatment holds promise for those suffering from macular degeneration which causes progressive loss of central vision, affecting the ability to read, drive and recognise faces. It is responsible for 50 per cent of all cases of blindness in Australia.

Speaking at Bond Research Week on the Gold Coast, Mr Limnios said he takes stem cells and grows these into healthy RPE cells which can be implanted in the eye to replace damaged RPE cells.

"So now we can make these RPE cells really quickly, at high efficiency under clinical-grade conditions and that's important when it comes to treating a lot of people," he said.

Mr Limnios is working with eye expert Associate Professor Nigel Barnett to take the treatment to animal trials.

"He's a retina guy and we make human eye cells here, so surely this a perfect fit," Mr Limnios said.

"We can work as a team to test them in (animal) eyes as we move towards a clinical trial."

He has already trialled putting cells into rats’ eyes.

“This gives us promise that the implant works but it was only a short-term test of improvement.

“I wouldn't put these into my mother quite yet. We still have a long way to go.”

Mr Limnios, who is about to graduate with his PhD, works with Associate Professor Barnett at Bond University’s Clem Jones Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

They will also be reprogramming cells to model retinal diseases in the laboratory so these can used for drug testing.

The research is being funded by a bequest from the Cutmore Estate.

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