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Embryonic Stem Cell Retinal Implants Seem Safe, So Far 91

Posted by timothy
from the it's-that-or-the-lasik dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A biotechnology company said Monday that results from the world's first human trial using embryonic stem cells to treat eye diseases suggested that the new procedure appears to be safe four months after the cells were injected into the eyes of two blind patients. The study also describes visual improvements in patients, and experts said the findings hold promise for treating blindness in patients with currently incurable conditions like age-related macular degeneration in older patients and Stargardt's Disease, a main cause of blindness in young people."
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Embryonic Stem Cell Retinal Implants Seem Safe, So Far

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  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @12:51PM (#38807903) Homepage Journal
    The main reason for this (for those of you who haven't seen a neocognitron in a fourth-year machine learning course) is that the eye does a lot more pre-work for the brain than just blitting a grid of pixels down the optic nerve. Recent efforts [scienceagogo.com] attempted to do that, however. There's much more complex pattern recognition going on even at this most basic level, in addition to the loss of precision for the non-focal area, and that helps reduce the cognitive load to something we can fully utilize.
  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @01:16PM (#38808259)

    The eye is a very complex organ though, so we would be behind. I'm glad to see progress, but even so, 4 months is a little short-term to say "no bad health effects". Given the cells are embryonic stem cells, I'm more concerned with the 10-20 year range.

    I have one of the issues listed, and I seriously hope that they can do something about it, I'd prefer a biological rather than mechanical solution, however, four months is not a lot of time, especially when you are messing with something as important as the sense of sight.

    From the actual researchers, they have two major concerns - 1) whether the treatment is permanent and 2) rejection issues. Both are long term concerns like the 10-20 year range you worry about. With regards for the rejection issues, they are quite confident that they will be able to repeat the results using stem cells derived from the patient's skin.

    They say they didn't go this route, even though less risky to the patient, because their grant was specifically to use embryonic stem cells in the treatment.

  • by guru zim (706204) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @01:49PM (#38808739)
    These are differentiated Retinal Epithelial Cells (RPE). http://download.thelancet.com/flatcontentassets/pdfs/S0140673612600282.pdf [thelancet.com] This is neither rash, nor precocious. This is a Phase I/II trial, not some mad scientist shooting up random cells into rubes in the woods. I'd recommend that anyone reading this exchange read the linked journal and not put an excessive amount of faith into people talking authoritatively and with big words :)
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @02:16PM (#38809129)
    From: Stem Cell Treatment for Eye Diseases Shows Promise [nytimes.com]

    Before the treatment, the woman with Stargardt’s was able to see the motion of a hand being waved in front of her but could not read any letters on an eye chart. Twelve weeks after the treatment, she was able to read five of the biggest letters on the eye chart with the treated eye, corresponding to 20/800 vision, according to the paper.

    Ms. Freeman, [another woman] who lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., went to 20/320 from 20/500 vision six weeks after the treatment.

  • by Garridan (597129) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @02:17PM (#38809155)
    Please, inform yourself. This sort of ignorance is embarrassing. "Harvesting fetuses" is not how we get embryonic stem cells. Excess fertilized embryos are a byproduct of in vitro fertilization. These embryos (not fetuses) would be destroyed if not donated to science. The fertilized embryos are on the order of 50-150 undifferentiated cells -- not a fetus -- in a microscope, one appears to be a spherical blob. At this point, the stem cells are "cultured" -- fed, and allowed to multiply, just like we grow bacteria or other single-celled organisms.
  • by mbeckman (645148) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @03:18PM (#38809967)
    Ignorance is embarrassing, Garriden. When you say "harvesting fetuses is not how we get embryonic stem cells; excess fertilized embryos are a byproduct of in vitro fertilization," you neglected to note that the difference between "embryo" and "fetus" is an arbitrary time interval (eight weeks post in vitro). There is no definitive functional demarcation between the two stages. For example, at week 5 the embyo has a heartbeat. At week 7 the head eyes develop. Week 9 brings toes, eyelids, and ears form. No single developmental step draws a bright line between embryo and fetus.

    .

    The difference between harvesting embryos and harvesting fetuses is purely semantic. Both are fertilized, living cells, and both are, in the eyes of the U.S. Supreme Court, a person when gestating within a woman. On a scientific level, if they're people within the womb, they're still people outside the womb. Science doesn't make the legal distinction based on location.

    Without a doubt we are harvesting people to get embryonic stem cells. You can argue the ethics of harvesting people in the service of a greater good if the people would be thrown away anyway. But the distinction between embryo and fetus is no divider between object and person. Please, inform yourself.

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