Stem cells for curing blindness ready for tests

Monday, November 22, 2010

LONDON - A revolutionary technique that could restore sight to the blind and prevent others from losing theirs is to be tested on people for the first time.

Researchers have given the green light to inject embryonic stem cells into the eyes of teenagers and young men and women with a hereditary form of blindness.

Tests on older people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common form of blindness in the elderly, are expected to follow next year.

Although the initial trials will take place in the US, British trials are likely to follow. If they replicate the ‘phenomenol’ results of animal tests, the lives of millions could be transformed, reports the Daily Mail.

However, the use of cells generated from embryos in the first days of life is controversial, with pro-life groups saying it is wrong to plunder an unborn baby to advance medical science, according to a release by Massachusetts biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology.

Robert Lanza, a leading stem cell researcher, will soon announce that he has been granted permission to carry out the world’s first trial into the power of embryonic stem cells to heal the eye.

The body’s ‘master cells’ are stem cells that can turn into other cell types and have tremendous potential as a repair kit for the body.

Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, said he will apply for permission to carry out trials on Britons with eye disease. He said: “This is a huge milestone for us.”

AMD affects 300,000 Britons alone but the total could top one million within 25 years.

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