A stem-cell biologist has had an eye-opening success in his latest effort to mimic mammalian organ development in vitro. Yoshiki Sasai of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CBD) in Kobe, Japan, has grown the precursor of a human eye in the lab. The structure, called an optic cup, is 550 micrometres in diameter and contains multiple layers of retinal cells including photoreceptors. The achievement has raised hopes that doctors may one day be able to repair damaged eyes in the clinic. But for researchers at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Yokohama, Japan, where Sasai presented the findings this week, the most exciting thing is that the optic cup developed its structure without guidance from Sasai and his team.
…The various parts of the human optic cup grew in mostly the same order as those in the mouse optic cup. This reconfirms a biological lesson: the cues for this complex formation come from inside the cell, rather than relying on external triggers. In Sasai’s experiment, retinal precursor cells spontaneously formed a ball of epithelial tissue cells and then bulged outwards to form a bubble called an eye vesicle. That pliable structure then folded back on itself to form a pouch, creating the optic cup with an outer wall (the retinal epithelium) and an inner wall comprising layers of retinal cells including photoreceptors, bipolar cells and ganglion cells. “This resolves a long debate,” says Sasai, over whether the development of the optic cup is driven by internal or external cues.