Schepens Scientists Regenerate Optic Nerve For The First Time
For the first time, scientists have regenerated a damaged optic nerve -- from the eye to the brain. This achievement, which occurred in laboratory mice and is described in the March 1, 2005 issue of the Journal of Cell Science, holds great promise for victims of diseases that destroy the optic nerve, and for sufferers of central nervous system injuries. "For us, this is a dream becoming reality," says Dr. Dong Feng Chen, lead author of the study, assistant scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute and an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. "This is the closest science has come to regenerating so many nerve fibers over a long distance to reach their targets and to repair a nerve previously considered irreparably damaged." This research, which has been supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the Massachusetts Lions Club, has always been a priority of the institute, but in recent times, urgency around it has increased, according to Dr. Michael Gilmore, director of research at Schepens Eye Research Institute and professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. In addition to the thousands of Americans blinded by glaucoma and injuries that destroy the optic nerve, and hundreds of thousands disabled by spinal cord injuries, "we were hearing stories of soldiers in the Middle East whose lives were saved by body armor, but who were returning with severe damage to limbs and eyes," he says. "At the same time, we learned of the untimely death of Christopher Reeves. It was, therefore, a priority for us to redouble our efforts to find ways to restore damaged nerves."