«Gran avance» para curar la ceguera con células madre

Expertos estiman que en cinco años podrán realizar pruebas clínicas. La posibilidad de revertir la ceguera ha dado un salto significativo. Científicos en Reino Unido demostraron que la parte del ojo que detecta la luz se puede reparar con células madre.

El equipo del hospital de ojos Moorfields, del University College de Londres, asegura que ahora, por primera vez, es una posibilidad realista hacer pruebas en humanos. Expertos describieron el estudio hecho en animales y publicado en la revista especializada Nature Biotechnology, como un «avance significativo» y un «gran salto» en ese sentido.

Los fotorreceptores son las células en la retina que reaccionan a la luz y la convierten en señales eléctricas que se envían al cerebro.
Sin embargo, estas células pueden morir y causar un tipo de ceguera como la enfermedad de Stargardt, un trastorno hereditario que se caracteriza por la degeneración macular. Ya se están haciendo pruebas en personas en las que se utilizan células madre para remplazar las células de «soporte» en el ojo que mantiene vivos a los fotorreceptores.

Ratones ciegos

La degeneración macular está relacionada con la edad y puede ser hereditaria. Ahora, el equipo de Londres ha demostrado que es posible reemplazar las propias células sensibles a la luz, lo que aumenta la esperanza de poder revertir la ceguera. Usaron una nueva técnica para «fabricar» retinas en el laboratorio. La emplearon para recoger miles de células madre, que fueron tratadas para transformarlas en fotorreceptores e inyectadas a los ojos de ratones.

El estudio mostró que estas células podían integrarse a la arquitectura existente del ojo y empezar a funcionar. No obstante, la efectividad todavía es baja. Sólo unas 1.000 células de 200.000 trasplantadas se pudieron enganchar al resto del ojo. El jefe de la investigación, Robin Ali, le dijo a la BBC que era «una verdadera prueba de concepto» que los fotorreceptores se pudieran trasplantar de células madre de un embrión», lo que les da una «hoja de ruta para hacerlo ahora en humanos».

«Por eso que estamos tan emocionados. Cinco años es ahora un objetivo real para empezar una prueba clínica».

Las ventajas del ojo

Los bastones (en azul) y los conos (más verdosos) en la retina detectan la luz
y crean señales eléctricas que se envían al cerebro.

El ojo es uno de los campos más avanzados en el área de la investigación de células madre.Es relativamente simple pues las células sensibles a la luz sólo tienen que pasar su mensaje eléctrico a una célula más para que llegue al cerebro, al contrario de un trastorno como la demencia donde se necesitaría que las células se enganchen a muchas otras en todo el cerebro.

El sistema inmunológico también es muy débil en el ojo por lo que hay pocas posibilidades de que un trasplante sea rechazado. Y pocas células pueden hacer una gran diferencia en el ojo. Decenas de miles de células madre en el ojo podrían mejorar la visión, pero ese número no regeneraría un órgano más grande como un riñón.

El profesor Chris Mason, del University College de Londres, le dijo a la BBC que los investigadores del estudio han dado un importante paso adelante, «pero la eficiencia es todavía muy baja para usos clínicos».

«Por el momento los números son pequeños y llevará bastante trabajo subir esa cantidad, la otra pregunta es si se puede hacer en humanos. Pero creo que se trata de un avance significativo que puede llevar a terapias celulares y dará un conocimiento más expandido de cómo curar la ceguera».

Por su parte, el doctor Marcelo Rivolta, de la Universidad de Sheffield, considera que el estudio era un «gran salto» adelante para tratar la ceguera y podría tener implicaciones en la investigación de células madre.

Fuente: BBC Mundo

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