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Small Stem Cell Study Claims Early Success in Treating Eye Disease
Date:1/23/2012

MONDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Using human embryonic stem cells to treat the eye disease macular degeneration appears to be safe and leads to some vision improvement, a small, early-stage study found.

The study included one elderly patient and one younger adult patient with different types of macular degeneration that had led to severe vision loss.

After four months, the embryonic stem cell transplants seemed safe and both patients had some improvement in vision, the U.S. researchers said.

The study, published online Jan. 23 in The Lancet, is the first report of the use of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) in humans for any purpose, the researchers said in a news release from the journal.

One patient was a woman in her 70s with dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. The other patient was a woman in her 50s with Stargardt's macular dystrophy, the most common type of macular degeneration in younger patients. Both were legally blind.

Both patients received transplants of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) derived from human embryonic stem cells into what's called the subretinal space (under the retina of the eye) in one eye. The patients received low-dose immunosuppression therapy, which was gradually reduced after six weeks.

Follow-up exams showed that the transplanted cells had attached to a part of the retina called Bruch's membrane and survived throughout the study period. Four months after transplant, there were no signs of so-called teratoma formation -- which occurs when stem cells turn into multiple cell types and form "incompatible" tissues that can include teeth and hair -- or related problems. And there were no signs of rejection or abnormal cell growth, the researchers said.

"Our study is designed to test the safety and tolerability of hESC-RPE in patients with advanced-stage Stargardt's macular dystrophy and
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