Efficient differentiation of human embryonic stem cells to retinal pigment epithelium under defined conditions

Ioannis Jason Limnios*, Yu-Qian Chau, Stuart Skabo, Denver C Surrao, Helen C O'Neill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
229 Downloads (Pure)


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a highly prevalent form of blindness caused by loss death of cells of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Transplantation of pluripotent stem cell (PSC)-derived RPE cells is considered a promising therapy to regenerate cell function and vision.

The objective of this study is to develop a rapid directed differentiation method for production of RPE cells from PSC which is rapid, efficient, and fully defined and produces cells suitable for clinical use.

A protocol for cell growth and differentiation from hESCs was developed to induce differentiation through screening small molecules which regulated a primary stage of differentiation to the eyefield progenitor, and then, a subsequent set of molecules to drive differentiation to RPE cells. Methods for cell plating and maintenance have been optimized to give a homogeneous population of cells in a short 14-day period, followed by a procedure to support maturation of cell function.

We show here the efficient production of RPE cells from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) using small molecules in a feeder-free system using xeno-free/defined medium. Flow cytometry at day 14 showed ~ 90% of cells expressed the RPE markers MITF and PMEL17. Temporal gene analysis confirmed differentiation through defined cell intermediates. Mature hESC-RPE cell monolayers exhibited key morphological, molecular, and functional characteristics of the endogenous RPE.

This study identifies a novel cell differentiation process for rapid and efficient production of retinal RPE cells directly from hESCs. The described protocol has utility for clinical-grade cell production for human therapy to treat AMD.
Original languageEnglish
Article number248
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number1
Early online date21 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Apr 2021


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