Macular Degeneration Treated With Stem Cells
Several years ago I received a phone call from a reporter wanting to know more about stem cell treatments for an eye condition where the optic nerve is not fully developed. A young girl from the Fort Collins area was en-route to China for treatment. At the time I was not aware of the procedure. A lot has changed in world of eyecare since then. On July 14, 2011 the first patient in the United States received a stem cell transplant for macular Degeneration. Steven Schwartz, M.D. and Robert Lanza, M.D. Performed the procedure using embryonic stem cells developed by Advanced Cell Technology, Inc.
This marked the beginning of a clinical trial by eye doctors that will involve 12 people. The first patients received 50,000 retinal pigment epithelial cells derived from embryonic stem cells. Stem cells are cells that have the capacity to develop into other types of cells and tissues. Stem cells can be from embryonic or adult origins. Embryonic stem cells are removed from developing embryos several days old that were initially grown for in-vitrio fertilization procedures. The embryo is normally destroyed in the process. Dr. Lanza has developed a procedure to remove a single cell and start the stem cell line without resulting in the death of the embryo.
Is Stem Cell Use For The Eyes Safe?
Like all clinical trials, the eye doctors do not know if the procedure will be safe or effective. It is intended to treat the dry form of macular degeneration. The dry form is responsible for the majority of cases of macular degeneration and results in millions of people suffereing with vision loss and partial blindness. This study will be completed in 2013, and if it is successful further clinical trials will be required before any treatments are approved.
Germany and China have had programs with ophthalmosists treating macula degeneration with stem cells. The program in Germany was closed by the government over concerns about stem cell usage. The leading program in China was developed by Beike Biotech, where doctors claim to have treated thousands of cases of different types of diseases with stem cells, including age related macular degeneration. Beike physicians report they do not use embryonic stem cells, but instead rely on adult cell lines derived from umbilical cords or bone marrow.
In March of 2011 vision researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center were able to induce adult stem cell lines to turn into retinal pigment epithelial cells. These cells were not robustly healthy but did mimic the functions of the normal retinal pigmented epithelial cells. In the future they hope to produce vital, healthy cells for future eye doctors use in transplantation.
Eye Treatments And Stem Cell Debate
Adult stem cell treatment have a long and somewhat successful history. Embryonic stem cell lines were not developed until 1998 so they are a relatively new kid on the block. The same group that developed this first stem cell line also transformed skin cell into cells with similar properties in 2007. (James Thomson and Shinya Yamanka). The transformation of normal cells into stem cells will someday probably end the debate over embryonic stem cell uses in treating diseases.
We do not know if the current attempts will be successful and what the possible side effects may show up over time. Transplanting cells does not currently provide a mechanism to encourage them to hook up anf function where they are needed. There are lingering concerns about stem cells (especially embryonic stem cells) developing into the wrong types of tissues or being rejected. The long term potential of stem cell therapy in “regenerative medicine” is enormous. In 2008, a 15 year old girl in Fort Collins, Colorado traveled to China for stem cell treatment of optic nerve hypoplasia. At that time her vision was described as 20/4000. One year later she received her drivers license permit. We can hope the results in treating macular degeneration will be the same.