Ever watch Mr. Magoo? It’s pretty clear that blindness can be a hindrance to everyday living. When I was a kid, I used to see how I could manage with my eyes closed. There may be more than a few bumps from a run in with a wall or three.
Luckily, my childhood “condition” could be corrected with a little common sense. Now, those with actual impaired vision may have hope from the world of stem cell therapy. Dr. Robert Lanza’s team at Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts reported a new treatment using human embryonic stem cells in the January issue of The Lancet.
I stumbled upon this research thanks to a great piece by Andy Coghlan at New Scientist, where he explains some of the importance of this research and the scientists’ views on the future of the field.
This research is pretty cool because it’s the first example of clinical trials showing that human embryonic stem cells could be used successfully to treat disease. Of course we’re all aware of the controversy, but this may finally show that something good can indeed come from it.
Anywho, the science is interesting as well. Turns out, it’s not just injecting stem cells into the eyes. It’s stem cells directed down a path to make them specific eye cells that could help improve eye function. Before this trial, they tested their ideas by implanting these cells into mice. Upon success, they proceeded into these clinical trials on two patients with eye degeneration.
Importantly, these cells didn’t show any signs of weird growth or rejection from the immune system in these patients. More importantly, they experienced moderate but significant improvement in their vision.
The idea now is to see if this treatment, when performed earlier in patients, could prevent significant loss of vision or macular degeneration. Maybe it won’t cure blindness, but maybe it will keep us all from losing our sight as we age or battle disease.
Thanks & Gig ‘Em.