Stem Cells Safe, Improve Vision in Eye Disease Study

28 Jan

Saturday is normally “Creative Person of the Week” posting day and that will continue.  But today, I saw something that is important and worth taking priority.  Actually, we can say these are our creative people this week!

The first clinical trial of human embryonic stem cells to report any effects shows they are safe and can improve vision, according to a report in the Lancet medical journal.

A team at Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts, the University of California, Los Angeles and elsewhere reported the controversial cells worked safely in two patients with macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness.

Human embryonic stem cells are the body’s master cells. From a cluster of a few of these cells soon after fertilization, the entire human body develops. Scientists have hoped for years to use them to regenerate cells, tissues and even whole organs.

But their use is controversial because getting them usually requires destruction of a human embryo. There had also been fears that they may be too powerful to transplant into people — perhaps developing into more tissue types than desired, or forming a tumor known as a teratoma.

This did not happen in the two patients treated by Advanced Cell Technology’s specialized cells, the team reported.

“It has been over a decade since the discovery of human embryonic stem cells. This is the first report of human embryonic stem celll-derived cells ever transplanted into patients, and the safety and engraftment data to-date looks very encouraging,” Dr. Robert Lanza of ACT said in a statement.

Geron Corp. began the first clinical trial of human embryonic stem cells, in patients with spine injuries, but abandoned the trial last year.

One of President Obama’s first acts after he took office in 2009 was the reverse restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cells. A federal judge threw out legal challenges to the decision in July.

In the Lancet report, the researchers said a patient with a type of macular degeneration known as Stargardt’s disease went from being able to only see hand movements at first, to being able to see only single finger movements to 20/800 vision after four months.

A second, older patient with “dry” macular degeneration, an untreatable form, went from being able to read only 21 letters on a chart to being able to read 28.

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