Adult Stem Cells in Blindness-Curing Treatment

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Adult stem cells have been used in a blindness-curing treatment described by one ophthalmologist as a “roaring success.”

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The treatments were administered as part of an Italian study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the ten-year study, doctors performed the treatment on 106 individuals who had eye damage caused by caustic substances, then tracked the patients’ vision improvements following the procedure. The individuals all had partial or complete corneal damage in one eye or partial corneal damage in both eyes—but not complete damage in both eyes.

Doctors began the treatment by extracting stem cells from a healthy portion of the patient’s limbus. The stem cells of the limbus, which surrounds the cornea, help replace dead corneal cells. (Individuals with total damage in both eyes were ineligible for the procedure because they lack any healthy limbus tissue.) Next, the researchers propagated the healthy stem cells in the lab, then they removed scar tissue from the patient’s damaged eye(s). Finally, the doctors introduced the healthy stem cells grown in the lab into the damaged cornea.

Three-quarters of the patients regained sight after the operation, with some of the others experiencing more limited improvement. Incredibly, the success stories included one individual whose eyes were damaged more than 60 years ago. The patients also did not need to take anti-rejection drugs because the stem cells came from their own bodies.

The procedure is another exciting success of medical therapy that uses adult stem cells. These do not require the destruction of human life, as do embryonic stem cells, which are extracted from viable human embryos that are destroyed in the process. Further, adult stem cell therapies have a proven track record, something that can’t be said for the embryonic alternative.

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