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Chris Young/Press Association via AP

Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy Could Cure Form of Blindness

April 20, 2009 07:00 PM
by Denis Cummings
British researchers say that embryonic stem cell therapy could cure age-related macular degeneration, a common form of blindness.

Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy May Cure AMD

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A team of scientists and surgeons from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London has developed a stem cell therapy to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of vision loss in the elderly.

“Under the new treatment, embryonic stem cells are transformed into replicas of the missing cells,” writes The Times of London. “They are then placed on an artificial membrane which is inserted in the back of the retina.”

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced this week that it will fund the development of the therapy; UCL professor Pete Coffey, who led the research team, predicts the therapy will be available as part of a simple, one-hour procedure within six or seven years.

The researchers are applying for approval to conduct a clinical trial on humans; it would be just the second-ever trial conducted on humans using embryonic stem cells.

Background: Embryonic stem cell research

Embryonic cells are considered the most valuable stem cells because they are able to become any of the over 200 types of tissue in the human body. There are, however, many ethical and moral concerns over the use of embryonic cells, which require that a fertilized egg be destroyed.
Former President George W. Bush imposed strict restrictions on the use of embryonic stem cell research in 2001. President Barack Obama overturned Bush’s restrictions in March, opening up news lines of embryonic cells to researchers.
Though embryonic stem cells have the potential to cure a wide range of diseases and conditions, scientists have not yet tested embryonic stem cell therapy on humans. That will likely change this summer, when biotech company Geron is set to begin a clinical trial using embryonic stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries.

Professor Coffey said in January that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to approve the trial might clear the way for his team’s application to be approved. “It clearly gives a lot of direction to our regulars,” he said. “It is a precedent of sorts.”

Reference: Age-related macular degeneration; stem cells

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