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Biomechanical Origins Of Common Eye Diseases Easier To Study With New "Stretched Tissue" Approach

Until now, researchers looking for the origins of eye diseases like detached retina and glaucoma have focused on biochemical processes. Now using approaches based on new technology that grows retinal tissue under tension similar to how it grows in nature, researchers in Sweden suggest biomechanical processes may also play an important part and help explain why people suffer vision loss in these eye diseases.

In a March issue of the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, Fredrik Ghosh and Linnéa Taylor of the Department of Ophthalmology at Lund University Hospital, and colleagues, describe how they developed a method to investigate the importance of the biomechanical environment within the central nervous system and tested it on eye tissue from pigs.

The central nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord and retina. It has a complicated mechanical structure which is under constant fluid pressure, among other things.

With their new approach, Ghosh, Taylor and colleagues show how when this biomechanical balance is disturbed, as happens in retinal detachment and glaucoma, the retina malfunctions, and this is what leads to vision loss and blindness.

"We have not previously understood the mechanisms behind glaucoma and retinal detachment, but we knew that these diseases had a strong mechanical component. Our findings could form an initial explanation as to why we develop these diseases," Ghosh and Taylor say in a statement released on Wednesday.

An important feature of the tissue of the retina is that it grows under tension. Yet current methods for studying diseases of eye tissue don't replicate this feature. They use unstretched tissue, which dies after a few days when the mechanical balance in the retina is disturbed.

The new approach described in the study grows retinal tissue from adult pigs in a stretched state, similar to how it grows in nature. This makes it possible for scientists to experiment with retinal tissue for up to ten days with a well-preserved structure and a much higher cell survival rate, argue the authors.

The researchers say the new stretched tissue approach helped them understand in a "more concrete manner how biomechanical factors in the central nervous system influence the health of cells when we are healthy and when we suffer from diseases".

In their study conclusions they write:

"The results confirm that biomechanical tension is a vital factor in the maintenance of retinal tissue integrity, and suggest that mechanical cues are important components of pathologic responses within the [central nervous system]."

They hope the new tools will not only help scientists find out more about the origins of eye diseases but will also be useful in developing new treatments.

In another study reported in 2012, two researchers in the US describe how they made an artificial retina that restored normal vision in blind mice.

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