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Stem Cells Could Lead to Cure for Blindness

Very important news on a possible cure for blindness:

British scientists plan to use stem cells to cure a common form of blindness, with the first patients receiving test treatment in five years.

The pioneering project, launched on Tuesday, aims to repair damaged retinas with cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. Its backers say it involves simple surgery that could one day become as routine as cataract operations.

They believe the technique is capable of restoring vision in the vast majority of patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness among the elderly that afflicts around 14 million people in Europe.

European countries are moving forward quickly with embryonic stem cell research, threatening to leave US companies behind in key areas of medical research. Nonetheless there appear to be American interests, albeit altruistic, strongly behind this project.

[This research project] has been made possible by a 4 million pounds ($8 million US) donation from an anonymous U.S. donor, who the project's leaders said had become frustrated by U.S. curbs on stem cell work.

Embryonic stem cells are the ultimate master cells of the body, giving rise to all of the tissues and organs. Their use is controversial because many people oppose embryo destruction, although Britain has encouraged such research.

Surgeons at Moorfields have already restored the vision of a few patients using cells harvested from their own eyes, which were moved to a new site. But this process is complicated and only a small number of cells can be moved, limiting its use.

By injecting RPE cells derived from stem cells instead, Dr Lyndon Da Cruz of Moorfields hopes the operation can be reduced to a simple 45-minute procedure under local anesthetic.

"If it hasn't become routine in about 10 years it would mean we haven't succeeded," he told reporters. "It has to be something that's available to large numbers of people."

I'm sympathetic towards concerns from my fellow Americans over stem cell research, but the potential for embryonic stem cell miracles is too great to simply dismiss.

Logic suggests there are ways to move forward on research that would at the same time address the objections and concerns raised by the religious right, but as the current Immigration brouhaha suggests, the intractability of the right to move towards compromise positions suggests that continued political change, and the further removal of Republicans from positions of power in the US, is the only way a compromise position will be reached.

We simply must have the votes to overcome their objections, and reach compromise positions that allow progress such as the tremendous strides being made in curing blindess, to continue.


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Comments (6)

Who's John Galt?:

Logic suggests

Bit of a stretch for you, Lee.

John in CA:

I'm not part of the "religious right" and I'm against Human Embryonic Stem Cell research and I'm especially against the Federal government funding it.

Lee Ward:

Feel free to explain why stunning developments such as the ability to cure blindness for some folks should not be pursued through human embryonic stem cell research, John.

I appreciate your concern, but it seems like this should be an area for compromise(?)

John in CA:

There has been a compromise. There has been no concerted effort in the Congress to outright ban hEsc research. If private money is willing to fund the research, have at it.

I'm mostly opposed to the demands that the Federal government fund it. Of course, I'm also against the Federal government funding many types of research. The Congress is ill equipped to decide the winners and losers in the marketplace.

The fact of the matter remains, this "breakthrough" is still five years away. I'll be surprised if we ever actually see this miracle cure. hEsc research has heralded many "miracle" cures and as has yet to deliver a single one. This despite ten+ years of research and promises promoting the benefits of hEsc research.

In the meantime, adult stem cell research continues apace, delivering actual remedies and promising clinical trials. All mostly under the media and public radar because it's not the chosen miracle cure.

John in CA:

Additionally, I am one of those people who might benefit from this miracle cure for macular degeneration - although mine is not age related.

I have Stargardt's, which is a genetic macular degeneration disease. I just went through my first time of being legally blind in my left eye as determined by the DMV. Oh, joy. My first actual road test in over 30 years. Potentially, this remedy for age related macular degeneration, could be applied to my situation. Doesn't change my opinion of hEsc research one bit. I still don't think our Federal government should be involved. I'm not calling for an outright ban, but am opposed to endorsing it and funding it.

Well, I hope you are helped by whatever research and developments are done in this area, John. Best of luck to you.

And if I read you correctly, you are opposed to government funding of medical research in general, and ESC research is only one example of the the types of projects that you feel should not benefit from US government support. Fair enough.

I have to admit that I don't understand the position of those who feel that just ESC research should be omitted from government funding, however, so maybe someone will come along who'd like to speak to that specific topic.


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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