Advanced Cell Technology has spent the last decade working on an embryonic stem cell treatment for eye diseases and that work is about to undergo its first big test in July when trials begin in California. The Massachusetts-based company has recruited its first 24 patients with macular degeneration and dystrophy, diseases that could lead to blindness, for trials at the Jules Stein Eye Institute, at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Doctors will inject healthy cells--known as RPE, or retinal pigment epithelial cells--into patients with dry age-related macular degeneration and Stargardt's macular dystrophy, which strikes younger people between the ages of 10 and 20. In both diseases, blindness results from a thinning of those epithelial cells at the center of the retina.
"After a decade of extensive research and preclinical studies, it is very satisfying to finally be moving into the clinic," Lanza told Reuters in a statement. "We hope that these cells will, in the future, provide a treatment not only for these two untreatable diseases--Stargardt's disease and macular degeneration - but for patients suffering from a range other debilitating eye diseases."
Previous animal studies have shown that injecting RPE cells improves eyesight. In some studies, mice recovered near-normal vision, according to an article in RedOrbit. Gary Rabin, interim chairman and CEO of ACT, said that eventually the company hopes to use its "patented techniques for manufacturing large numbers of doses of RPE cells" and ship them off to clinicians.
Steven Schwartz, retina division chief at the Jules Stein Eye Institute, tells the Guardian that the trials are a major step toward addressing "one of the largest unmet medical needs of our time--treatments for otherwise untreatable and common forms of legal blindness."