January 31, 2012

Patients Report Improved Vision after Retinal Stem Cell Implants

While the results involved only two people, there’s still reason for excitement in last week’s report – published in the online journal The Lancet – that two women experienced improved vision after embryonic stem cell therapy.

Said Dr. Steven Schwartz, a retina special at the University of California who treated both patients, “It’s a big step forward for regenerative medicine.” The apparent success carries implications for the use of stem cells to treat other diseases, like Parkinson’s.

Both patients were legally blind. A woman in her 70s suffered from macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss among seniors. The other woman, 51, suffered from Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, which effects younger people.

After the 30-minute procedure, the women reported several improvements, like seeing colors better, and being able to thread a needle again.

Researchers at Advanced Cell Technology first had to coax embryonic stem cells into retinal pigment epithelial cells, the same cells whose deterioration causes macular degeneration. Each woman received about 50,000 of those re-engineered cells into one eye only.

To reduce rejection risk, the patients received drugs to suppress their immune systems. There were no signs of new tumors, which have sometimes appeared after stem cell therapies.

Interestingly, vision in the older woman’s untreated eye also improved after the procedure. Dr. Schwartz said he could not see the implanted cells in the treated eye one day later, which led him to wonder if the placebo effect might explain the woman’s reported vision improvement.

To be sure, we’ve got a long way to go – more research, larger study groups, better control groups, etc – before anyone can report the joyful news with certainty that embryonic stem cell therapies are truly available to treat degenerative diseases. But the quest goes on.

This blog has featured some of the exciting stem cell news in recent months:
  • June 1, 2011: Rodent model study shows promise for treating humans with Parkinson’s. See rodent study.
  • September 28, 2011: Researchers create dopamine-producing brain cells from embryonic stem cells. See dopamine.
  • December 1, 2011: Study finds versatile stem cells in breast milk – a fact that could circumvent the ethical issues the technology often generates. See breast milk.
 What’s next?


tahera s said...

Its a great feeling to know that the research is having positive results and people are getting cure from it. We have a long way to go and I hope many people would get cure from it. Good work.  Stem Cell Treatment for Parkinson's

Mayasree Madhuri said...

This is excellent work. Hopeful about future!

Stem Cell Treatment for Parkinson's