First patients enroll in US stem cell trials on blindness

June 16, 2011

The first clinical trials that examine the use of stem cells to treat two forms of blindness are ready to begin now that patients have been enrolled, a US company announced on Thursday.

A total of 24 patients have entered two separate trials at an eye institute in California, said representatives from the Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology.

ACT was cleared by the US several months ago to begin clinical trials of human to treat a form of juvenile blindness known as Stargardt's disease and dry age-related macular degeneration.

Now that patients have been enrolled, the trials will begin "in the very near future," a company spokeswoman said.

The trials aim to check the safety of the treatment before moving on to see whether the therapy can help stop vision loss.

"These trials mark a significant step toward addressing what is one of the largest unmet medical needs of our time, treatments for otherwise untreatable and common forms of legal blindness," said lead investigator Steven Schwartz at University of California Los Angeles Jules Stein Eye Institute.

Dry is the most common form of irreversible vision loss in people over age 55.

There is currently no cure for the disease, which affects around 10-15 million Americans and another 10 million people in Europe, the company said.

Stargardt's disease causes blindness by destroying the pigmented layer of the retina, called the retinal (RPE). After that follows degradation of photoreceptors, which are cells in the retina that detect light.

Patients often experience blurry vision, difficulty seeing in low-light and eventually most lose their ability to see at all. The disease can be inherited by a child when two parents carry the that causes it.

The treatment process being tested by ACT worked in animals by creating an abundance of new , which are the first cells to die off in Stargardt's and other forms of macular degeneration.

Tests on rats have shown 100 percent improvement in visual performance and "near-normal function" was also achieved in mice, both without negative side effects, ACT has said.

Embryonic stem cell research has been a controversial field ever since the first such stem cells were isolated more than 12 years ago.

Scientists say the cells offer great promise in treating Parkinson's disease, diabetes and a variety of other illnesses. Critics frequently oppose the research on religious grounds because it involves the destruction of human embryos.

Explore further: Researchers work to prevent blindness from age-related macular degeneration

Related Stories

Researchers work to prevent blindness from age-related macular degeneration

May 18, 2011
Slowing down the aggregation or "clumping" of vitamin A in the eye may help prevent vision loss caused by macular degeneration, research from Columbia University Medical Center has found.

Recommended for you

How defeating THOR could bring a hammer down on cancer

December 14, 2017
It turns out Thor, the Norse god of thunder and the Marvel superhero, has special powers when it comes to cancer too.

Researchers track muscle stem cell dynamics in response to injury and aging

December 14, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) describes the biology behind why muscle stem cells respond differently to aging or injury. The findings, published in Cell Stem Cell, ...

'Human chronobiome' study informs timing of drug delivery, precision medicine approaches

December 13, 2017
Symptoms and efficacy of medications—and indeed, many aspects of the human body itself—vary by time of day. Physicians tell patients to take their statins at bedtime because the related liver enzymes are more active during ...

Estrogen discovery could shed new light on fertility problems

December 12, 2017
Estrogen produced in the brain is necessary for ovulation in monkeys, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who have upended the traditional understanding of the hormonal cascade that leads to release ...

Time of day affects severity of autoimmune disease

December 12, 2017
Insights into how the body clock and time of day influence immune responses are revealed today in a study published in leading international journal Nature Communications. Understanding the effect of the interplay between ...

3-D printed microfibers could provide structure for artificially grown body parts

December 12, 2017
Much as a frame provides structural support for a house and the chassis provides strength and shape for a car, a team of Penn State engineers believe they have a way to create the structural framework for growing living tissue ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.