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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