Stem Cells Restore Vision to the Blind

In a preliminary study, two patients have reported better vision after doctors injected stem cells into their eyes. The study is set to be expanded, using larger doses of stem cells.

What's the Latest Development?

Two legally blind California women report significant improvements in their vision months after an operation during which doctors injected stem cells into their eyes. Within six weeks of the test, one of the patients, a 51 year-old graphic designer who suffers from Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, began to see colors again and can now thread a needle. The other patient, whose vision loss resulted from dry macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world, is back driving and living more independently.  

What's the Big Idea?

Stem cells are most well known for their ability to become any specialized tissue in the body. That function was essential for this operation as doctors coaxed the stem cells into becoming retinal pigment epithelium before injecting them into the patients' eyes. The eye is a logical place to test stem cell therpies because it is immunoprivileged, meaning it is unlikely to mount an immune response to foreign cells. The study will now extend to test 12 patients, doubling the amount of stem cells to be injected.

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