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Cell-based therapeutic strategies for replacement and preservation in retinal degenerative diseases


Cell-based therapeutics offer diverse options for treating retinal degenerative diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). AMD is characterized by both genetic and environmental risks factors, whereas RP is mainly a monogenic disorder. Though treatments exist for some patients with neovascular AMD, a majority of retinal degenerative patients have no effective therapeutics, thus indicating a need for universal therapies to target diverse patient populations. Two main cell-based mechanistic approaches are being tested in clinical trials. Replacement therapies utilize cell-derived retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells to supplant lost or defective host RPE cells. These cells are similar in morphology and function to native RPE cells and can potentially supplant the responsibilities of RPE in vivo. Preservation therapies utilize supportive cells to aid in visual function and photoreceptor preservation partially by neurotrophic mechanisms. The goal of preservation strategies is to halt or slow the progression of disease and maintain remaining visual function. A number of clinical trials are testing the safety of replacement and preservation cell therapies in patients; however, measures of efficacy will need to be further evaluated. In addition, a number of prevailing concerns with regards to the immune-related response, longevity, and functionality of the grafted cells will need to be addressed in future trials. This review will summarize the current status of cell-based preclinical and clinical studies with a focus on replacement and preservation strategies and the obstacles that remain regarding these types of treatments.

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