Blind World

Macular Degeneration.
Stem cell research could produce treatment for blindness.

September 24, 2004.

WASHINGTON : US scientists on Thursday announced a breakthrough in human embryonic stem cell research they said could produce a treatment in two years for a type of blindness afflicting those over 60.

In an article published on the website of the Journal of Cloning and Stem Cells (JCSC), they said they had, using stem cells, cultivated retinal cells in the laboratory.

The epithelium pigment cells of the retina, they said, are essential to vision because they ensure the correct functioning of the eye's light receptors.

Deterioration of the epithelium pigment provokes a progressive destruction of the receptors which often leads to macular degeneration, a principle cause of blindness in those over 60 and for which no effective treatment exists.

More than 30 million people worldwide, including nine million in the United States, suffer from macular degeneration, said the article.

"Retinal cell transplants could be one of the first applications of human embryonic stem cell technology," said Robert Lanza, director of Advanced Cell Technology, a biotechnology firm in Worcester, Massachusetts, and co-author of the JCSC article.

"With the right resources, we hope to get this into the clinic in one to two years."

"This very exciting paper describes the first derivation of human cells that will be used to treat some forms of blindness," said Ian Wilmut, JCSC editor-in-chief and head of the Department of Gene Expression and Development at the Roslin Institute, the Scottish firm that pioneered animal cloning.

- AFP.

Copyright 2004 Agence France Presse.

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