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Early success in a stem cell clinical trial to treat blindness

About a month after taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13505, Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells.  This order rescinded President George W Bush’s ban on new stem-cell lines for research (with a few exceptions), probably as a result of pressure from religious, anti-abortion groups.

Embryonic stem cells are useful research and clinical tools because they can be used in regenerative medicine, including tissue repair.  The first clinical trials started in 2009, and no stem cell therapy has been approved by the FDA as of this time.  Some early success in treating post-acute myocardial infarction with stem cells was reported earlier this month.

Time Magazine reports Early Success in a Human Embryonic Stem Cell Trial to Treat Blindness in a recent article.  Researchers at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute reported success in improving visual acuity in two patients with dry age-related macular degeneration, a disease for which there are currently no known viable treatments.  This is particularly good news, since this study’s goal is to test for safety rather than efficacy.  Right now, there appear to be no rejection of the cells or clinically significant side effects.

Although the results are encouraging, remember that the study is very preliminary, efficacy is not an end-point, the results are for two patients only, and long-term safety  has not been established.  But, this is good news as more and more research into the usefulness of embryonic stem cells in treating a wide range of diseases continues.

Original source (for more detailed information):  Embryonic stem cell trials for macular degeneration:  a preliminary report  (pdf file)

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