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Medicine Science

Stem Cell Treatment To Cure the Most Common Cause of Blindness 126

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-can-see-clearly-now dept.
The Times Online reports that researchers from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields eye hospital have developed stem cell therapy that can treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness. They are currently moving the treatment through the regulatory approval process, and clinical trials are expected to start within two years. Quoting: "Under the new treatment, embryonic stem cells are transformed into replicas of the missing cells. They are then placed on an artificial membrane which is inserted in the back of the retina. ... [Professor Pete Coffey, director of the London Project to Cure Blindness] said the treatment would take 'less than an hour, so it really could be considered as an outpatient procedure. We are trying to get it out as a common therapy.'
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Stem Cell Treatment To Cure the Most Common Cause of Blindness

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  • by defile39 (592628) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:37AM (#27635999)
    I (and I'm sure many others) will gladly take a little loss of visual acuity over a lot of blindness. You have to admit that, if this works, it will be a revolutionary improvement over rotation or general transplants. Of course, that's still a big if.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:44AM (#27636053)

    Eh, don't get too hung up on it. I'm legally blind and have no trouble with coding, video games, and especially porn. Could be the porn that got me into this mess in the first place (mom always said I'd go blind), but whatever.

  • Re:Vampirism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nizo (81281) * on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:59AM (#27636167) Homepage Journal

    So if you had a choice between saving a vat of frozen embryos from a fire or a single person of any age, you would pick the embryos? How about if the single person was your child; would you still pick the vat of embryos?

    By the way, for all the folks who are against using stem cells to cure disease, feel free to go blind while the rest of us enjoy our vision. As someone who has a genetic predisposition towards getting MD when I get older, I am more than happy to sacrifice a few bundles of cells that were going to be tossed into the trash anyway to keep my vision when I am older.

  • Re:Vampirism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kiuas (1084567) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @12:18PM (#27637093)

    I just don't see how taking the life of an embryo so that the older or sick can keep on living is anything other than vampirisim (in a loose sense of the word, or course).

    Erm, someone correct me if I'm wrong but hasn't this been discussed time and time again. Embryos for stem cell research are not bred just for the purpose of being "killed". The cells, at least acording to what I've heard/read (again, prove me wrong if you know any better, I'm not a professional) are taken from embryos that were fertilized for the purposes of fertility treatment/artificial impregantion. During those treatments multiple embryos are fertilized and some of them are the discared. The stem cells are extracted from discarded embryos. This means that the embryos would "die" anyway and at least this way they're being used for something beneficial.

    Moreover, I don't understand the problem at all. Embryos aren't humans. They are clusters of cells. They are by no means sentient or intelligent. So what's the whole deal about "vapirism"? People donate blood and organs all the time - this is not so far from it. Bottom line is: The embryo is alive in the sense all cells are alive but it has no "life" to be taken away. If you seriously think that way I suggest you stop eating any food because by eating vegetables you're basically taking the life of another organism so that you can live and according to you, that's "vampirism".

  • Re:Vampirism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Badge 17 (613974) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:28PM (#27638479)
    I think part of the worry comes from a mistaken belief that each treatment will mean the destruction of an embryo - hence the "vampirism" fear. Maybe I'm wrong in this, but the treatment comes from a stem cell line [wikipedia.org] - i.e. once upon a time there was an embryo, and now it's billions and billions of constantly growing individual stem cells. Objecting to stem cell *treatments* because of embryos being destroyed is like a vegan refusing to be treated by a doctor who once ate meat ten years ago.
  • Re:Vampirism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thing 1 (178996) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:47PM (#27638649) Journal

    And yes kids, THIS is how one does a troll. Pure Truth, yet presented in the most inflamatory way possible, is the surest way to drive folks into a blind rage.

    Perhaps; perhaps. Perhaps you are correct.

    However, and this is an important however: your post is not going to receive funding. The research discussed in the article, however trollish, likely will. So, I've learned something from your post, even if it wasn't directly what you were conveying. :)

  • by gillbates (106458) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @10:10PM (#27641207) Homepage Journal

    First, it's not religious FUD. The fact that a human embryo is, well, human, is not disputed by any in the scientific community. Nor is the fact that a fertilized embryo will, under the normal course of nature (i.e., implanted in the womb, carried to term, etc...) become what most people recognize as a human being.

    What Bush did was simply stop federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Which didn't ban it outright, it just meant that taxpayer dollars wouldn't be used to fund it. Which is kind of remarkable that the press called it a 'ban', because it was nothing of the sort - private interests could still fund stem cell research to their heart's content. Given the U.S. stance on intellectual property, such a ban actually furthered private interests by freeing them from competition; instead of having publicly funded research result in public-domain cures, now private investors were free to fund their own research, patent the results, and reap exorbitant profits from whatever cures were forthcoming.

    Except that they didn't. When you consider the fact that during the dotcom days investors were throwing money at any company with a business plan, let alone a product, the fact that stem cell research funding went lacking is telling. IOW, the prospects of (embryonic) stem cell research were so bleak that even the stupidest and riskiest of VC firms chose not to fund it. Which, quite frankly, speaks volumes about its perceived value for finding actual cures for diseases.

    The stem cell debate isn't a debate over science; it's a debate about who society considers deserving of life. Two hundred years ago, people of a certain skin color were considered subhuman. In the last century, the Nazis considered it acceptable to kill off Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Christians, etc... "for the greater good of Germany". The scientific fact of the matter is that the embryos from which stem cells are derived could have become living, breathing people.

    Think about that the next time you can't find a date.

    Instead, that stem cell became an experiment. And one day, after perhaps thousands, or even millions are killed in the name of science, we may find a cure for a disease. A disease which affects those who already have had the privilege of being born. IOW, people are being denied their very lives, in order that others who already have lives may live them with less discomfort.

    If I were blind, I would really appreciate a cure which allows me to see again. But I wouldn't sacrifice my wife or any of my children for that cure. Nor would I expect anyone else to die so that I could be cured. It just isn't worth it. I'd rather live with a disease than do without the lives of those people I love. And for me to ask someone else to die so that my disease could be cured would be the height of arrogance.

    It is the unfortunate fact of life that capitalist societies have reaped their wealth from the backs of the poor and voiceless. The dispassionate attitude toward those less privileged, those without a voice in their defense, is a staple of capitalist societies. From the Southern plantations and the slave trade to Chicago's recent establishment of "pan-handle-free" zones, the oppression and marginalization of the weak and unfortunate is a recurring theme in American society. The possibility of "miracle cures" has science drooling over the prospects of embryonic stem cell research; they have a motive of becoming famous; the drug companies, of course, see the potential profit; but who is looking at the grand scheme of things? Are we really a more progressive nation than that which fought the civil war? Do we really look out for those who can't speak for themselves? Or are we merely arrogant, attempting to assuage our guilt about the misdeeds of our forebears, all the while committing offenses that even they would have considered immoral?

    The debate over embryonic stem cell research isn't a matter of science; it's a matter of morality. To support it requires

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