Stem Cells Closer to Reversing Macular Degeneration 

Stem Cells Closer to Reversing Macular Degeneration 

Researchers have been studying the effects of stem cells on macular degeneration for decades. Using animal models, small but important steps have taken place in the lab to determine a trajectory for this sight robbing disease. Soon thereafter experimental human trials took place reaping some impressive results and finally paving the way for larger studies.

Now stem cells continue to prove effective as applied in two groundbreaking clinical human trials. This is the last step before you or any of the 30 million afflicted people can receive stem cell injections to reverse macular degeneration. Exciting news for a disease that was once thought unable to respond to any treatment.

Human Results

The most promising work in reversing macular degeneration has recently come to light.

European Pharmaceutical Review (EPR) reported that,

“Two clinical trials have shown early promise in treating common blindness-causing conditions, specifically the dry form of macular degeneration, by injecting embryonic stem cells behind the human retina. This treatment may be able to prevent the onset of vision-damaging disease and even improve patients’ vision.”

One trial conducted at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, consisted of replacing damaged retinal cells with new ones derived from embryonic cells. Embryonic cells are equivalent to a “clean slate” able to be “coded” with whatever part of the body may need cellular regeneration.

According to EPR,

“Within a few weeks, they could see signs that the retina was healing at the injection site, and images of the back of the eye suggest the possibility that the transplanted RPE [retinal pigment epithelial] cells survived. Patients’ vision remained largely stable throughout the study, and they suffered no unexpected side effects.”

Eyal Banin, lead study investigator at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center commented,

“We’re encouraged by the results thus far,”

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In America, funding for stem cell research is limited to private lab-work. This is due to cultural, religious and pseudo-science embryonic stem cell opposition, particularly for federally funded studies. As a result, private labs, some universities and other organizations have taken up the slack, leading the way when politics get in the way.

The second clinical trial took place in America led by Ninel Z. Gregori, MD, and held at the University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. It concentrated on treatment of dry AMD (age related macular degeneration) and retinal degeneration called Stargardt disease the most common form of inherited juvenile AMD currently with no treatment available, until now.

The stem cell injections in these clinical trial patients were tracked for three years showing no side effects and some patients gaining vision.

Dr. Gregori commented,

“RPE cells appear to be well tolerated in the human eyes,…This study supports further development of human embryonic stem cell-derived RPE for degenerative diseases of the macula.”

Regenerative Medicine

Stem cells can kind of be compared to seeds; plant them and they will grow. As procedures like skin grafting, organ replacement and even age reversal techniques continue to advance, stem cell therapy may be one of the most essential and successful to date. This is because growing RPE’s in a lab setting can easily be scaled for mass application as they rapidly replicate nearly identical to the body’s natural cells.

According to The National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services,

“Stem cells, directed to differentiate into specific cell types, offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases including macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.”

Stem cell therapy is one platform of what has been coined “regenerative medicine.” This is predicted to be one of the most successful applications to combat and possibly reverse macular degeneration as well as many other afflictions.

Immune-privileged Injection Site

Another promising aspect of using stem cell regenerative medicine to treat macular degeneration is the actual injection site. Just behind the human retina where the cells would be transplanted is recognized as an “immune-privileged” location.

An immune-privileged location is one of the rare areas of the body where rejection risk is minimal due to the fact that the immune system does not apply here as it would at other sites. Add in the fact that only a small number of cells would be needed at this injection site making potential instability even less of a concern. These two factors support stem cell regenerative therapy as a much more achievable goal. It lifts the enormous responsibility of figuring out how to stop the body from fighting off the therapy before it even gets a chance to work as seen in other treatments such as skin grafts and organ transplants.

In a study conducted by researcher JV Forrester of the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Aberdeen, Institute of Medical Sciences, Scotland, UK it was concluded that,

“What is clear [], is that immune privilege can no longer be regarded as an immunological curiosity; that it is possible to induce or inhibit immune privilege for clinical benefit for instance in graft rejection, tumor control, and macular degeneration;”

A Word of Caution

Stem cells therapy is becoming somewhat of an unchecked fad that is popping up throughout the US and international clinics alike. Similar to the inception of botox which was originally developed for uncontrolled muscle spasms and then abused by many unqualified practitioners as an age defying treatment, stem cells are falling prey to false claims as well.

Science Mag wrote,

“A report this year [2017] in The New England Journal of Medicine also documented three women who were blinded after a Florida clinic injected them with stem cells to treat macular degeneration. And even patients not physically harmed might spend thousands of dollars on useless treatments that insurers often refuse to cover.”

Until stem cells are recommended by reputable practitioners such as your ophthalmologist or GP, it is best to follow the progress as reported here until it goes mainstream. Given the dangers that have occurred, stay away from “experimental” research.

Overall, the study of stem cells closer to reversing macular degeneration are an exciting reality. Once clinical trials are finished and assessed it shouldn’t be too long before many, maybe you, can be eligible for sight restoration.

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