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Medicine Science

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

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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:22AM (#27635901)

    But don't let this discourage any mad scientist from creating ocular implants, especially ones with wifi and defensive laser beams.

  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:26AM (#27635931) Homepage
    I feel sorry for Larry Niven. Back in the 1960s and 1970s he was writing works of science fiction (e.g. the Gilm 'The Arm' Hamilton stories in Flatlander [amazon.com] ) that suggested that organ transplants were going to be so widespread as a cure that even the most minor crimes would get the death penalty. Instead, it looks like the human race may realize stem cell cures faster than anyone could have imagined. Oh, and Kurzweil suggests we'll all be in robot bodies before the century's end, so those great hard science fiction writers of half a century ago fall even further behind.
    • by juiceboxfan ( 990017 ) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @10:17AM (#27636279)

      ...Kurzweil suggests we'll all be in robot bodies before the century's end...

      I think I would rather have the robot augmentation than chance stem cells turning on me. [sciam.com]

      From the above link;
      Then he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2005. That tumor, it turns out, grew out of the stem cells, obtained from at least two aborted fetuses, used in his brain.

      Besides can stem cells give you telescopic vision? Now that would be cool!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by cagrin ( 146191 )

      Actually "synthetic" bodies which i suppose you could call robots have been around for quite some time...though it is hidden from the general public. Science fiction writers are often writing about technology existing in THEIR time(such as time travel and "star gates") but is not in the public eye. Start with the Omega and Majestic projects if you wish to research ;)

    • Back in the 50's, 60's and 70's, the USA would fund such things because we were a rich nation. We, that is society, felt that by funding regular research that we would improve everybody's lot in life, as well our nation. Fortunately, reagan and the republican party saw how much money that fundamental and applied research was costing America and had it stopped before it bankrupted America. Combine that with W's tax cuts for moving research and jobs offshore and we have now accelerated the growth of that res
      • And the world will have the technology just as much as if the US had developed it.
        • Not really. The world would have had it MUCH sooner had we been doing what we had been doing in the 50's, 60's, and 70's.

          Do not get me wrong. I am not opposed to other nations doing this. I am opposed to our having killed our RD work, while running up debt in much higher numbers.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation had Geordi La Forge [wikipedia.org] wearing a visor that gave him sight. Now all he needs are some stem cells. :)

    • Oh, and Kurzweil suggests we'll all be in robot bodies before the century's end, so those great hard science fiction writers of half a century ago fall even further behind.

      I think that most people don't realize that most machines in 100 years will be indistinguishable from organic systems.

      And vice versa.

      Of course you could make a machine to look like a machine, but it is highly likely machines will be designed like living organisms simply because it is more efficient that way.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:32AM (#27635967)

    IAAO (I am an Ophthalmologist).

    Although the article does not mention what kind of cells and membranes are transplanted and wether it is going to be used in exsudative or non-exsudative AMD I would assume that it's retinal Pigment Epithelium and Bruch's Membrane being used in wet (= exsudative) AMD.
    Therefore this seems to involve subretinal surgery, which is not a piece of cake and usually diminishes visual accuity.
    Previous attempts in this direction have already been done (macular rotation, retinal pigment epithelium transplants, etc.), results have not been all too gratifying.

    • 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 spineboy ( 22918 ) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:50AM (#27636109) Journal

        IANAO IAAO (I am not an Opthomologist, I am an Orthopaedist)

        Anyway, I think the GP is suggesting that it's not just a little loss of visual acuity, but a lot, a whole lot. Maybe even enough to make it not worthwhile.
        If I recall correctly, the retina is kinda made backwards - the nerves are on top of the retinal layer. So one has to peel back the nerves to work on the layer underneath. I can't imagine that individual nerves like this at all.

        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          IAAO IANAO (I am an Ophtalmologist, I am not an Orthopedist).

          You are correct. However, the structure affected in AMD is not directly the retina but Bruch's Membrane and the retinal pigment epithelium which both separate the retina from the underlying chorioid. (Vessels and subsequent retinal edema due to neovascularisation from the underlying chorioid to the retina is what is what is making exsudative AMD wet).
          In any way in order to place something between the chorioid and the retina you have to get past th

          • I assume, then that since MD affects a sublayer under the retina, and not the actual retina itself, that this carries little hope for affecting retinitus pigmentosa?

            I ask because my father has RP, and I'm curious as to whether to send this article to my Mom or not...
        • You remember right about the retina being "inside out". However ...

          There's actually a potential space between the photoreceptors (rods and cones)and the outermost layer of the retina, the pigment epithelium. This is the level at which the retina comes loose in retinal detachment.

          The way you do this is not to get between the photoreceptors and the nerve fibre layer (which would cause total loss of vision in that part of the retina) but between the photoreceptors and the pigment epithelium, essentially
        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2009 @12:13PM (#27637071)

          IANAO IAAO (I am not an Opthomologist, I am an Orthopaedist)

          EIEIO (I am a farmer)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
        Plus, I could enjoy religious nutjobs shouting "You put baby foetus in your eyes !" at me...
    • by tkjtkj ( 577219 ) *
      did the article not state that its seen to be a one-hour outpatient procedure? your comment seems not appropriate, if we are to believe the report, and we have no reason to doubt it.
    • by bargainsale ( 1038112 ) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @11:02AM (#27636597)
      IAAO too ...

      This is, I think, stem cell implantation subretinally for Geographic Atrophy, a.k.a "dry" macular degeneration. Potentially a big deal inasmuch as currently we have no treatment for this at all and it accounts for 90% of all macular degeneration.

      It involves major invasive surgery: "outpatient procedure" gives a highly misleading idea of what's involved. It doesn't mean any more than that you could get away with not admitting the patient to hospital, not that you could ever do it anywhere except in an operating theatre.

      Moorfields have lately developed a very bad habit of prematurely and misleadingly announcing "breakthroughs" in eye treatment, which I suspect is related to their own funding issues (they did this not long ago with some extremely misleading publicity about three patients with Leber's Amaurorosis they'd treated with gene therapy, not one of whom in fact showed measurable objective improvement in vision - not the impression the news reports tried to give.)

      Peng Khaw BTW is not a retinal expert (though Lyndon da Cruz certainly is; he was also involved in the publicity about the gene therapy, interestingly.)

      I'm sorry to say that I think this is the Moorfields spin machine in action.
    • by ParadoxDruid ( 602583 ) * on Sunday April 19, 2009 @01:08PM (#27637399) Homepage
      I recently met Pete Coffey, the lead scientist on this effort (he collaborates with scientists in a research group across the hall from mine), and attended his technical talk on this procedure. You are correct, they're transplanting retinal pigment epithelium. However, they've done experiments with both wet AMD and some preliminary work with reviving dry AMD. Very promising work; but yes, very involved surgery with a success rate of 75% even for ideal patients.
  • by physburn ( 1095481 ) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:40AM (#27636013) Homepage Journal
    So pleased at the news, losing my eyes, is my number one fear, no eyes = no computers games, no programming, and no porn. Blindness would be sure hell.

    Reading the article, is hardly ready for use, so far only tested on rats and pigs. There'll be many years of trials before its ready for use on people. Plus Stem cells have be known to turn cancerous, cancer of the retina, would be quickly fatal, there so close to the brain.

    Stem cells have tremendous potential to cure disease and even to reverse the aging process. The next twenty years of research might total change the sad process of aging in human.

    Stem cells [feeddistiller.com] feed at Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

    • 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.

    • The next twenty years of research might total change the sad process of aging in human.

      And just in time, too, from my POV. I'm 59 right now, so there's a good chance (if you're right) for those new treatments to come in right on time for me to take advantage of them.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      Please stop with the "god" shit, there's no connection between a nonexistent deity and stem cell research.
  • Are the answer to most any illness that doesn't have a hard genetic base to it. ( since the 'new' cells will eventually take on the same old genetic deficiency )

  • by name*censored* ( 884880 ) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:47AM (#27636085)

    "On hearing the announcement that researchers have found a cure for AMD, a spokesman for computing giant Intel said 'It's about bloody time.'".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Finally! Now, can someone do something about the hair on my palms?

  • by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @10:09AM (#27636229)
    Someone tag this !porn because I was seriously confused for a minute.
  • And I think that anyone who is opposed to embryonic stem cell research should not be allowed to have this treatment, should they need it and testing proves it successful.

    Let them go blind.


    • And I think that anyone who is opposed to embryonic stem cell research should not be allowed to have this treatment, should they need it and testing proves it successful.
      Let them go blind.

      What makes you think they would want it? There ARE people out there that have values they actually believe in.

      • by TomHandy ( 578620 ) <tomhandy@gmail.3.14159com minus pi> on Sunday April 19, 2009 @01:05PM (#27637375)
        In all seriousness, it will cause an interesting moral choice for those people then. As you said, there are people who genuinely hold those values, but I don't think it would be such an easy cut and dry decision for some of them if it could mean something like restoring sight. Or, say, even if not for them, but if the sight of one of their children could be restored. Not saying everyone would give in, but it would not always be an easy choice. Not to put it on the same level, but it's like how many people have an objection on paper to something like abortion, but when actually confronted with it, they don't always act based on their objections.
        • I agree with you, and I think the abortion comparison is apt. To put it another way, there are a lot of people out there that are anti-abortion and have kids they probably didn't want.

          The difference between those who mouth adherence to values and those who practice what they preach!

    • And I think that anyone who is opposed to embryonic stem cell research should not be allowed to have this treatment, should they need it and testing proves it successful.

      So if you're opposed to the manner in which the research was done, you shouldn't be allowed to benefit from the resulting medical treatment? Interesting. Well, I hope that if you're ever rescued from some mountainside with severe frostbite and hypothermia, you won't mind being allowed to die. Because an awful lot of our knowledge of how t

  • So stem cells have cured masturbation related blindness? That's awesome!
  • When your vision is restored is the baby jesus crying.
  • Obligatory (Score:3, Funny)

    by Godji ( 957148 ) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @01:10PM (#27637421) Homepage
    ...stem cell therapy that can treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD)...

    A spokesman for Intel expressed great interest in the technology:

    "AMD has been a problem we've tried to combat for years, but until now, no matter how much we tried to suppress it, it always managed to survive. Not anymore."

    NVIDIA declined to comment on this news story.
  • Religous FUD (Score:2, Interesting)

    by omb ( 759389 )
    I continue to be appalled by the bigoted and histrionic comments of religious Americans who do not seem to understand that not even all Christians agree with them let alone the rest of us, and then Squabble endlessly over exactly what Bush's disastrous decision in Health was, again never mind his contributions to Foreign Affairs or the Economy. He set health research back eight years while presiding over un-necessary wars and the de-regulation of the financial system which has resulted in the greatest depr
    • 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 o

      • by goldcd ( 587052 )
        "The fact that a human embryo is, well, human, is not disputed by any in the scientific community"
        I'll dispute it. Well actually I might dispute it, depending upon what your definition of human is.
        When that sperm an egg meld together and feverishly start multiplying, then that 'could be' implanted in a womb and 'could become' a person. It's still just a lump of cells and personally I couldn't give a monkey's what's done with it.
        When we move into abortion I get a little more uncomfortable. Officially I'm
      • Those "people" are never, ever going to be. They're just frozen eggs, and you just want them to remain there until the end of time. Noone wants them anymore.
      • Your very long comment is unfortunately valueless, and completely misses the point, __AND__ is yet further evidence of the lack of education in the USA. I do not have either the time, nor inclination to dissect your arguments in detail.

        Pluri-potent cells, unlike differentiated cells, have the ability to morph into the needed tissue type, differentiated cells, alone cannot effectively repair injury or organ failure, stem cells, embryonic or not can. Autonomic (self generated, Pluri-potent cells) are to be pr
  • by PPH ( 736903 )
    Do not look directly at the shark-mounted laser without suitable eye protection.
  • The Christians are going to be hopping mad about this one.
  • The Ixians are going to be pissed.

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"