by Steven Ertelt
June 5, 2007
London, England (LifeNews.com) — British scientists hope to use embryonic stem cells to cure blind patients age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness among elderly people. However, other doctors have already used adult stem cell research to treat blind patients and their conditions have vastly improved.
Retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells within the eye play a vital role in the survival and maintenance of the rods and cones that detect light and color. Death of RPE cells may lead to the condition known as AMD.
The British researchers hope to develop the embryonic stem cells, which can only be obtained by destroying human life, to repair damaged retinas.
The London Project to Cure AMD will use a donation from an anonymous American upset with the lack of taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research in the United States.
Scientists from University College London, Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, and the University of Sheffield are spearheading the research.
Lead researcher Dr. Lyndon Da Cruz told the London Daily Mail newspaper, "Given AMD could affect up to one-third of the population by 2070, the potential to create a treatment strategy for this condition is critical and may have a major impact on vision loss in the community."
Professor Alistair Fielder of the non-profit group Fight for Sight claimed that clinical trials could begin using the embryonic stem cells in five years.
However, the use of adult stem cells has already helped the blind to see thanks to doctors who extract stem cells from patients’ own eyes, then culture healthy tissue to repair their corneas.
“I feel like a human being again,” Deborah Catlyn told the London Telegraph in April 2005. She regained her sight after losing it in 2002 when a woman at a nightclub threw acid in her face.
Catlyn is one of 20 Britons who this adult stem cell procedure has enriched. It was developed at Hyderabad, India’s Prasad Eye Institute, where some 200 blind people have been treated, most of them successfully.
Meanwhile, scientists at Scripps Research Institute used bone marrow stem cells to grow new blood vessels in the eyes of mice, a development researchers say could lead to treatments for some forms of blindness in humans, including diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.
The injected adult stem cells homed in on the parts of the eye where they were needed, grew new blood vessels, and prevented blindness in the mice.
They published their findings in the medical journal Nature back in July 2002.
Last month, Scripps scientists received a $17 million grant for adult stem cell use to treat eye diseases.
"Our goal in the next five years is to develop this new approach to treating retinal diseases to the point it can be tested in the clinic," the initiative’s principal investigator Martin Friedlander, a professor at Scripps Research and retina specialist at Scripps Clinic, said.
"This is an extraordinary opportunity to take highly novel laboratory concepts, test them experimentally, and translate them into therapies for the treatment of blinding eye disease."