To develop biological approaches to restore vision, we developed a method of transplanting stem cell-derived retinal tissue into the subretinal space of a large-eye animal model (cat). Human embryonic stem cells (hESC) were differentiated to retinal organoids in a dish. hESC-derived retinal tissue was introduced into the subretinal space of wild-type cats following a pars plana vitrectomy. The cats were systemically immunosuppressed with either prednisolone or prednisolone plus cyclosporine A. The eyes were examined by fundoscopy and spectral-domain optical coherence tomography imaging for adverse effects due to the presence of the subretinal grafts. Immunohistochemistry was done with antibodies to retinal and human markers to delineate graft survival, differentiation, and integration into cat retina. We successfully delivered hESC-derived retinal tissue into the subretinal space of the cat eye. We observed strong infiltration of immune cells in the graft and surrounding tissue in the cats treated with prednisolone. In contrast, we showed better survival and low immune response to the graft in cats treated with prednisolone plus cyclosporine A. Immunohistochemistry with antibodies (STEM121, CALB2, DCX, and SMI-312) revealed large number of graft-derived fibers connecting the graft and the host. We also show presence of human-specific synaptophysin puncta in the cat retina. This work demonstrates feasibility of engrafting hESC-derived retinal tissue into the subretinal space of large-eye animal models. Transplanting retinal tissue in degenerating cat retina will enable rapid development of preclinical in vivo work focused on vision restoration.
Keywords: human embryonic stem cells; large-eye animal models; retinal organoids; subretinal transplantation; synaptic connectivity; vision restoration.