Ophthalmology to Benefit from Stem Cell Research

in Cell

Doctors will begin testing human embryonic stem cells on people to possibly advance treatment for retina disease. The study is believed to make tremendous leaps in correcting vision impairment.

The treatment is targeted for people with Stargardt's Macular Dystrophy (SMD), a retina disease that causes vision impairmentby damaging the cells in the central part of the eye, which hinders one's central eye sight and sometimes color perception. The disease is often genetic, and worsens with age. Currently, no treatment for Stargardt's exists.  Doctors believe the human embryonic cells will replace the dead cells in the retina of the patient with Stargardt, and, in so doing, correct symptoms of vision problems.

"Using stem cells, we can generate a virtually unlimited supply of healthy RPE cells, which are the first cells to die off in SMD and other forms of macular degeneration," Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Robert Lanza stated in the company's press release.

Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a biotechnology company based in Massachusetts, specializes in cellular technology in regenerative medicine.

ACT will begin the testing on 12 patients suffering from Stargardt's. The research will start with inserting only a few thousand cells into each eye to ensure the safety of the study. Doctors can monitor the vision of the patient to see how the treatment progresses.

The approved study represents leaps for the possibilities human embryonic stem cell research has to offer not to ophthalmology, but the entire field of medicine. The only other trial of therapy using human embryonic stem cells approved by the FDA is a treatment for spinal cord injury.

The doctor's optimism towards the study stems from the vast improvements that the testing has shown in animals. "The study results of ACT's RPE cells implanted in the various animal models of macular degeneration was phenomenal. If ACT observes even a fraction of that benefit in humans, it will be nothing short of a home run," stated Raymond Lund, a scientific collaborator with ACT. Mr. Lund, Ph.D., is a renowned doctor in the world of retinal cell physiology.

While Stargardt's disease only affects about 40,000 Americans, macular degeneration is a common symptom of age and the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. Up to 30 million people in the United States and Europe are burdened by macular degeneration. Doctors hope that the treatment for Stargardt's will open doors for all sorts of common macular degeneration treatments.

Stem cell research has been a controversial issue in the United States because it involves killing human embryos.

ACT's chairman and CEO referred to the study as a "game changer" in the medical community.  "I think generations will look back at this time as one of the most exciting in the history of medicine."

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Ophthalmology to Benefit from Stem Cell Research

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This article was published on 2010/12/07