Stem cell research & therapy

Long-term safety of human retinal progenitor cell transplantation in retinitis pigmentosa patients.

PMID 28962643


Retinitis pigmentosa is a common genetic disease that causes retinal degeneration and blindness for which there is currently no curable treatment available. Vision preservation was observed in retinitis pigmentosa animal models after retinal stem cell transplantation. However, long-term safety studies and visual assessment have not been thoroughly tested in retinitis pigmentosa patients. In our pre-clinical study, purified human fetal-derived retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) were transplanted into the diseased retina of Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) rats, a model of retinal degeneration. Based on these results, we conducted a phase I clinical trial to establish the safety and tolerability of transplantation of RPCs in eight patients with advanced retinitis pigmentosa. Patients were studied for 24 months. After RPC transplantation in RCS rats, we observed moderate recovery of vision and maintenance of the outer nuclear layer thickness. Most importantly, we did not find tumor formation or immune rejection. In the retinis pigmentosa patients given RPC injections, we also did not observe immunological rejection or tumorigenesis when immunosuppressive agents were not administered. We observed a significant improvement in visual acuity (P < 0.05) in five patients and an increase in retinal sensitivity of pupillary responses in three of the eight patients between 2 and 6 months after the transplant, but this improvement did not appear by 12 months. Our study for the first time confirmed the long-term safety and feasibility of vision repair by stem cell therapy in patients blinded by retinitis pigmentosa. WHO Trial Registration, ChiCTR-TNRC-08000193 . Retrospectively registered on 5 December 2008.