New stem cell research slows loss of vision

Researchers were able to grow new cells from embryonic stem cells and used them to slow vision loss in rats with a genetic ailment comparable to macular degeneration. The scientists--Raymond D. Lund, who had been at the University of Utah's John A. Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City, and Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology--say that their work demonstrates the utility of using new cells to substitute for the failing photoreceptor cells in the retina of the eye. Failing photoreceptor cells is a condition common to macular degeneration. The researchers injected about 20,000 cells into each of the eyes of 14 rats with a condition similar to macular degeneration. Eight rats received injections without cells. Treated rats were twice as responsive to flashes of light as untreated rats. After three months of therapy the treated rats had twice the visual acuity of untreated rats. At least one other expert said that while the research is exciting, scientists will need to note that the rat disease is not identical to macular degeneration and an immune response to the injections could spur rejection. Of particular note is that the researchers in the trial were able to consistently make the new cells from embryos, a process that necessitated the destruction of the embryos.

- read the article on the stem cell work from The Washington Post