February 11, 2005.
A Chosun University professor may have found a way to help the blind see again with experiments on the use of stem cells on retinal cells.
Professor Song Chang-hun said Friday that his team will ask the government next week to permit stem cell trials on five blind people, who lost their sight due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
``We plan to isolate stem cells from umbilical cord blood and inject them into retinal cells after getting approvals from the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA),'' the 49-year-old Song said.
Late last month, the KFDA had a meeting with the five RP patients and Song's team to check the viability of applying the breakthrough therapy to eyes.
RP refers to hereditary disorders of the eye's retina, the camera-like cell layers that pick up pictures and transmit them to the brain.
The disease damages the retina's ability to respond to light and further degeneration causes peripheral sight loss or narrowing of the field of vision, the reason why RP is called tunnel vision.
The rate of the disease's progression varies depending on the patient and type, but most patients become blind by around age 40. Some 1.5 million people are estimated to suffer from the disease worldwide.
This is not the first time Song's team has forged ahead with experimentation using stem cells from umbilical cord blood, which is routinely discarded after the birth of a baby.
During a press conference last November, Song surprised the world by announcing his team successfully treated a female patient with a spinal cord injury via cord blood stem cells.
The patient, whose lower limbs had been paralyzed for the last 19 years due to a back injury, stood up from his wheelchair and shuffled a few steps with the help of a walking frame.
Song's team also applied to the KFDA for the go-ahead on their second-round clinical tests on four more paralyzed patients last December. The KFDA is currently checking the application.
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