Stem cell therapy 'for blindness' on the anvil
London: In what`s claimed to be a ground
-breaking research, scientists are to use embryonic stem cell
therapy "to cure blindness" in people.
Clinical trials of the treatment for Stargardt`s
disease -- a rare, incurable eye disease that causes blindness
early in adulthood -- are expected to begin next year, British
newspaper `The Times` reported.
And if the research is cleared by the US Food and Drug
Administration, 12 patients with Stargardt`s disease, involved
in the trial, could become the world`s first to receive such
treatment based on embryonic stem cells.
Lead scientist Robert Lanza of the Advanced Cell
Technology described the application as an important advance.
"After years of research and political debate, we`re
finally on the verge of showing the potential clinical value
of embryonic stem cells.
"Our research clearly shows that stem cell-derived
retinal cells can rescue visual function in animals that
otherwise would have gone blind. We are hopeful that the cells
will be similarly efficacious in patients."
Embryonic stem cells are master cells found in embryos
that can form any of the specialised tissue types in the adult
human body. They`ve great potential as a source of replacement
tissue for treating disease or injury.
Advanced cell technology has used a line of embryonic
stem cells grown from an embryo to create retinal pigment
epithelial cells, a type of eye tissue that malfunctions in
Stargardt’s disease and age-related mascular degeneration.
In studies of rats with Stargardt`s, implanting
these cells led to a substantial improvement in eyesight. The
animals showed no adverse effects.
Dr Lanza said that the trial would involve 12 patients
at three centres in the US, and is designed first to assess
safety and tolerability.
And, if this is successful, a larger study to examine
effectiveness will follow, and if all goes well a treatment
could be approved for wider use within three to five years.