Monday, January 23, 2012

Breakthrough: Stem cells return vision to legally blind patients

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Stem cells

It’s no exaggeration to say that these sorts of medical breakthroughs are what so-called “pro-lifers” are fighting against in every practical sense:

Two women who had gone legally blind from untreatable eye diseases had dramatic improvements in their vision after injections of human embryonic stem cells, making it the first documented time these controversial cells have helped someone.

"I'm thrilled and so excited," said their ophthalmologist, Dr. Steven Schwartz, at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute. "We're not saying we found a cure for blindness, but this is a big step forward for regenerative medicine."

Schwartz and his colleagues published their study in The Lancet. For each patient, stem cells derived from an embryo were injected into their retinal tissue. They had to take anti-rejection drugs for a short period so their eyes wouldn't reject the foreign tissue.

Before her stem cell surgery in July, Sue Freeman, 78, couldn't take a walk, go shopping or cook by herself because of macular degeneration, a disease that affects millions of Americans and for which there is no cure.

"I couldn't pour a glass of water without spilling it on the counter," she said.

Now, after surgery in one eye, she cooks, shops and walks on her own. "I can even read my own writing now," she added. "And I've noticed other things. My husband and I were walking around one of our rental properties and I noticed scuff marks on the wall. I told him we need to fix this, and he said, 'You're seeing things better, but that's making my honey-do list even longer.'"

Uh-oh. I sense a pro-life/disgruntled partner anti-science coalition in the works.