See-through Skin

Baptised in artificial waters,

connective tissues

rejoice in pre-set harmony;

their purpose reborn

as receptive intercessors

that ache

to vicariously

denounce the darkness.


Transplanted behind

shaded spots

of vacant eyes

the hazy light seeps through,

its familiar brilliance

skirting over resettled skin

stretched taught as a drum;

vibrating with the

mute anticipation

of re-imagined


Even mice with severely advanced retinal degeneration, with little chance of having living photoreceptors remaining, responded to transplantation (Image Credit: Vivatier).

This poem is inspired by new research, which has discovered a technique for directly reprogramming skin cells into light-sensing photoreceptors used for vision.

Stem cells are special cells that have the ability to develop into many different cell types, from muscle cells to brain cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells are developed in a lab from adult cells (rather than foetal tissue), and can be used to make nearly any type of replacement cell or tissue; for example, new photoreceptors can be developed to replace damaged or dying ones, thereby potentially reversing the effects of blindness. However, utilising such an approach involves creating stem cells from skin or blood cells, programming those stem cells to become photoreceptors, and then transplanting these into the eye. This is an extremely lengthy process; even in mice it can take up to six months before the photoreceptors are even ready for transplantation.

In this new study, scientists have shown that it is possible to skip the stem-cell intermediary step, and that instead skin cells can be directly reprogrammed into photoreceptors for transplantation into the retina. This direct reprogramming involves bathing the skin cells in a cocktail of five small molecule compounds that chemically induce their transformation into photoreceptor-like cells. This whole process takes approximately 10 days (as opposed to 6 months), after which they can be transplanted into the back of the eye. After transplanting these cells into mice with retinal degeneration, the researchers then tested the reflexes of their pupils, which is a useful indicator of photoreceptor performance and sensitivity. Within a month of transplantation, pupil constriction under low light conditions was observed in six of the 14 mice that were blind prior to having their skin cells reprogrammed in such a manner. Three months after transplantation, the new photoreceptors in these mice were still found to be preforming well, and further research is now been conducted to help optimise the process.

An audio version of this poem can be heard here:




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