Will Stem Cells Become A Treatment For Blindness?

Can stem cells treat blindness?Recent studies suggest stem cells may be a useful treatment for blindness in the near future. Two recent studies suggest stem cells have potential for treating conditions that cause retinal degeneration.

Scientists with the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan used adult stem cells taken from mice to grow new retina tissue. This tissue was then transplanted into mice with late-state retinal degeneration. After the procedure, the scientists tested the mice to see if their vision was restored. According to the results, 40 percent of the mice regained the ability to see light after one month. However, the researchers were quick to note that it may be many years before this treatment is tested on humans.

Another study recently published in Cell Stem Cell carried out a similar procedure on mice. These scientists found a way to prevent the immune system from rejecting stem cells used to rebuild photoreceptors, cells in the retina that sense light. Researchers injected the mice with cells that lacked a mechanism responsible for triggering an immune response. Mice injected with the stem cells could make out light and movement.

Both studies are promising because they take a step in the direction of curing certain types of blindness in humans.

How Could Stem Cells Be Used to Treat Blindness?

Stem cell treatments could be useful for people suffering from macular degeneration, a condition that degrades the retina over time. More than 15 million people suffer from macular degeneration in the United States.

Stem cells are also a possible treatment for retinopathy of prematurity. Specifically, stem cells taken from the umbilical cord may prove very useful for treating the condition before it causes blindness.