A new study by scientists from the University of Southampton has made a breakthrough that could help research treatments for age-related vision loss.
With an aging society, conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are becoming more prevalent, affecting around 300 new patients every week in the UK. AMD and similar conditions currently lack effective treatments.
In this new study, published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, the researchers used a newly developed imaging technique called serial block face scanning electron microscopy to produce a very high resolution digital reconstruction of ocular tissues from the outer retina.
This is the first time this technology has been used to completely rebuild retinal cells and could provide new insights into the causes of irreversible blinding disease.
The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) sits between the neuroretin and the external blood supply in the eye and plays a vital role in vision by taking care of the photoreceptors. Scientists currently do not fully understand the causes of RPE cell damage leading to vision loss.
The reconstructions produced in this study provide a clear picture of the 3D organization of RPE in a healthy eye, which will be a crucial benchmark for scientists to observe how RPE cells change with age and in diseased eyes.
The research team, led by Dr Arjuna Ratnayaka, Lecturer in Vision Sciences at the University of Southampton, used serial block facial microscopy on the central retina of the mouse.
The process involved a state-of-the-art microscope that captures digital images of hundreds of serial layers of the retina. The team then began the painstaking process of drawing the key regions of interest (such as the cell body and nucleus) in each scanned layer before advanced computer software rendered the images into a full 3D reconstruction.
We now understand the technical process required to produce high-resolution 3D reconstructions of retinal tissues, which is an exciting basis for further studies on cell deterioration in the eye. The use of artificial intelligence software will make this process faster in the future. Our team was made up of experts in cell biology, imaging, computer science and ophthalmologists and demonstrates that advances in modern research require bringing together a broad range of skills. “
Dr Arjuna Ratnayaka, Head of Study and Lecturer in Vision Sciences, University of Southampton
Keeling, E., et al. (2020) 3D reconstructed retinal pigment epithelial cells provide information on the anatomy of the outer retina. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. doi.org/10.3390/ijms21218408.