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Stem Cells to Treat Visual Impairments in Elderly

Stem Cells to Treat Visual Impairments in Elderly

Saturday, 19 January, 2019 - 07:45
A human embryonic stem cell line derived at Stanford University. (REUTERS/Julie Baker/Stanford University School of Medicine/California Institute for Regenerative Medicine/Handout)
Cairo - Hazem Badr
A team of US scientists will kick off later this year clinical trials to treat visual impairments in the elderly, caused by macular degeneration, a common disorder that usually affects people after 65.

Using stem cells, the team from the National Eyes Institute (NEI) managed to recover the retinal pigment epithelium, a type of cells that die in the early stages of macular degeneration affecting more than 30 million people around the world.

People suffering from this disorder show reduced vision sharpness, and lose many capacities such as reading, driving, and recognizing faces.

In the study published in the Science Translational Medicine journal, the US researchers said their lab tests have succeeded and ended up by recovering the vision of tested animals.

Kapil Bharti, who directs the NEI's Unit on Ocular and Stem Cell Translational Research, told Asharq Al-Awsat: "This is a first-of-its-kind technique. The treatment involves taking blood cells and converting them into stem cells.”

“The stem cells are then processed to become retinal pigment epithelium (the cells that die in the early stages of macular degeneration), and implanted in the retina. These cells feed the photoreceptors, which respond to light in the eye."

The research team tested the transplanted cells, which helped restore vision in animals.

In their paper, the scientists wrote that they also managed to restore the "RPE65," an important gene required in renovating pigment within photoreceptors and a key component of vision, which indicates that laboratory cells have reached a critical stage of maturity to maintain receptors' health.

"Our results, both in animals and in the laboratory, enable us to start the clinical trials of this treatment, which is expected to begin later this year after the approval the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)," Bharti said.

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