London: In what’s claimed to be a ground -breaking research, scientists are to use embryonic stem cell therapy “to cure blindness” in people.
Clinical trials of the treatment for Stargardt’s disease — a rare, incurable eye disease that causes blindness early in adulthood — are expected to begin next year, British newspaper The Times reported.
And if the research is cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration, 12 patients with Stargardt’s disease, involved in the trial, could become the world’s first to receive such treatment based on embryonic stem cells.
Lead scientist Robert Lanza of the Advanced Cell Technology described the application as an important advance.
“After years of research and political debate, we’re finally on the verge of showing the potential clinical value of embryonic stem cells.
“Our research clearly shows that stem cell-derived retinal cells can rescue visual function in animals that otherwise would have gone blind. We are hopeful that the cells will be similarly efficacious in patients.”
Embryonic stem cells are master cells found in embryos that can form any of the specialised tissue types in the adult human body. They’ve great potential as a source of replacement tissue for treating disease or injury.
Advanced cell technology has used a line of embryonic stem cells grown from an embryo to create retinal pigment epithelial cells, a type of eye tissue that malfunctions in Stargardt’s disease and age-related mascular degeneration.
In studies of rats with Stargardt’s, implanting these cells led to a substantial improvement in eyesight. The animals showed no adverse effects.
Dr Lanza said that the trial would involve 12 patients at three centres in the US, and is designed first to assess safety and tolerability.
And, if this is successful, a larger study to examine effectiveness will follow, and if all goes well a treatment could be approved for wider use within three to five years.