Retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells form a monolayer adjacent to the retina and play a critical role in the visual light cycle. Degeneration of RPE cells results in retinal disorders such as age-related macular degeneration. Cell transplant strategies have potential therapeutic value for such disorders; however, risks associated with an inadequate supply of donor cells limit their therapeutic success. The identification of factors that proliferate RPE cells ex vivo could provide a renewable source of cells for transplantation. Here, we report that a small molecule (WS3) can reversibly proliferate primary RPE cells isolated from fetal and adult human donors. Following withdrawal of WS3, RPE cells differentiate into a functional monolayer, as exhibited by their expression of mature RPE genes and phagocytosis of photoreceptor outer segments. Furthermore, chemically expanded RPE cells preserve vision when transplanted into dystrophic Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) rats, a well-established model of retinal degeneration.