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Life after death for the human eye

Vision scientists revive light-sensing cells in organ donor eyes
May 11, 2022
Scientist working at microscope.

Fatima Abbas, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Frans Vinberg, Ph.D., at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah and lead author of the study. Abbas conducted experiments in the dark as she exposed donor eye tissue to different kinds of light and recorded photoreceptor responses. Image credit: John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah

Scientists have revived light-sensing neuron cells in organ donor eyes and restored communication between them as part of a series of discoveries that stand to transform brain and vision research.

Billions of neurons in the central nervous system transmit sensory information as electrical signals; in the eye, specialized neurons known as photoreceptors sense light.

Publishing in Nature, a team of researchers from the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah and collaborators from Scripps Research describe how they used the retina as a model of the central nervous system to investigate how neurons die—and new methods to revive them.

The process demonstrated by the team could be used to study other neuronal tissues in the central nervous system. It is a transformative technical advance that can help researchers develop a better understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, including blinding retinal diseases such as age-related macular degeneration.