Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is an ocular manifestation of a diabetes-related complication, which involves retinal damage that can eventually lead to blindness. The disorder is characterized by the significant loss of neurons and consequential loss of visual function. No curative therapies are currently available.
Cell therapy utilizing hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) can potentially improve ischemic conditions. HSCs are recruited to sites of ischemia and injury and play an important role in tissue healing through release of trophic factors. It has been demonstrated that bone marrow-derived HSCs can differentiate into all hematopoietic cell lineages, including endothelial cells, astrocytes, and retinal pigment epithelial cells, and induce functional repair. HSCs can be exploited to form intraretinal capillaries. Recently, it has been reported that intravitreal HSC administration selectively prevented blood vessel loss and promoted blood vessel growth.
Bone marrow-derived mononuclear cells (BM-MNCs) transplantation in patients with advanced DR-associated atrophy of the retina and optic nerve was found to be safe and feasible and demonstrated promising results, without any adverse effects, in a phase I clinical trial.
Stem cell therapies for DR are providing new avenues for maintaining normoxia and subsequent reduction of retinal neovascularization, resulting in improved DR management.