From the Wall Street Journal Health Blog:
"Very early results from research into embryonic stem cell treatments suggest that the therapy was safe in use against macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness. The findings, though preliminary, are the first published results involving embryonic stem cells in human patients.
In the report, which covered two patients followed over four months, the patients reported some visual improvement that may — or may not — spring from the treatment. But much more research needs to be done before the therapy can be deemed a success.
Writing in the Lancet, researchers from biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles reported turning human embryonic stem cells into the key cells lost in macular degeneration, known as retinal pigment epithelial cells. Two legally blind patients then had these cells surgically implanted into one eye.
The patients — one with dry age-related macular degeneration and one with a related condition called Stargardt’s macular dystrophy — showed no signs of the safety problems that have been a concern about embryonic-stem-cell-derived therapies. “There were no tumors, and there was no immune rejection” after patients were tapered off of immunosuppressive drugs, said Steven Schwartz, an author of the study and chief of the retina division at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute.
The patients also reported visual changes that “could be a sign of improvement,” said Dr. Schwartz. For instance, the Stargardt’s patient, in her 50s, went from discerning only hand motions to being able to count fingers. She also reported improved color vision.
But Dr. Schwartz cautioned that the improved vision reported by the patients might be chalked up to the placebo effect, the surgery, the immunosuppressive drugs or “all of the above,” he said. “Objectively, there is no consensus in how to measure vision in low-vision patients,” he said.
The clinical trials studying the drugs in the two different forms of macular degeneration will eventually include 24 patients at different centers, followed intensively for a year and then tracked for years afterwards, said Robert Lanza, an author of the study and chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology, which is developing the therapy and funded the research. He said if studies in these patients with advanced disease pan out, eventually the aim is to target patients at much earlier stages of macular degeneration."
Macular Degeneration is one of the most active areas of research in all of eye care. There are 65 Million Americans in the Baby Boomer generation who are now starting to turn 65 years old. Other research has shown that up to 9.5% of all individuals over 65 may develop Macular Degeneration, almost 6.5 Million people! We will continue to be on top of research at Skyvision Centers so that we can continue to bring you the very latest, cutting edge treatments.