Reconstruction of eye tissue gives new insight into outer retina

A new study by scientists at the University of Southampton has made a breakthrough that could help the search for treatments for age related sight loss.

With an aging society, conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are becoming more frequent, affecting around 300 new patients every week in the UK. AMD and similar conditions currently have no effective treatments.

In this new study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Science, researchers used a newly developed imaging technique called serial block face scanning electron microscopy, to produce a digital reconstruction of eye tissues from the outer retina, at very high resolution. This is the first time this technology has been used to fully reconstruct cells from the retina and could provide new insights into the causes of irreversible blinding diseases.

The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is located between the neuroretina and the outer blood supply in the eye and plays a critical role in vision by looking after the photoreceptors. Scientists currently do not fully understand the causes of damage to RPE cells that leads to sight loss. The reconstructions produced in this study provides a clear picture of the 3D organisation of the RPE in a healthy eye, which will be a crucial reference point for scientists to look at how RPE cells change with age and in diseased eyes.

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