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Using stem cells to cure eye damage

By David Prentice, PhD | October 08, 2015

Excerpted from Stem cell surgery raises hope of cure for age-related blindness,” FoxNews. September 29, 2015 — A British medical team has developed an operation that some say may be a cure for age-related blindness, it was revealed Tuesday.

Sky News reported that a team of doctors at London's Moorfields Hospital transplanted embryonic stem cells that had been developed into retinal pigment epithelium cells into the eye of a 60-year-old woman suffering from so-called "wet" age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD occurs when the retinal pigment epithelium cells, which are located at the back of the eye, suffer damage. The procedure allows the newly created cells to replace the diseased area.

Sky reported that the surgery took place last month and no complications have been reported, though it will still take several months before doctors can establish how well the woman can see. However, experts say that if the surgery proves a success, it creates the possibility that wet AMD can be treated with surgery similar to that performed to remove cataracts. There is no treatment for the so-called "dry" form of AMD, which is the more common type of the disease. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in people over 50.

The Telegraph reported that the cells used in the procedure were taken from donated embryos that were created during IVF treatment, but never used.


Commentary

Dr. David PrenticeCMDA Member and Research Director at Charlotte Lozier Institute David Prentice, PhD: “The premature announcement from this clinical trial is not science, but rather hucksterism. It’s appalling that the doctors are releasing this news to media only one month after the first patient was injected to start the trial, as there has certainly been no time to adequately assess either safety or efficacy. Embryonic stem cell proponents are obviously desperate to justify their destruction and instrumental use of young human embryos for experiments, but this irresponsible hype gives false hope to millions of patients. It’s why such anecdotal accounts are not published. In early 2015, an almost identical trial being done in the U.S. reported that they could not be sure that any results observed were not simply due to placebo effect for patients who had been treated two to three years previously, though after several years there had now been sufficient time to consider safety.

“There is also concern whether this first U.K. patient, and any subsequent patients who enter the trial, are fully informed of the source of the treatment cells—embryonic stem cells come from the destruction of a young human being. Related to the ethical concern, it is uncertain whether patients are also informed that ethical adult stem cells and adult tissues have already shown published success in clinical trials for age-related macular degeneration. Patients should have complete and accurate information regarding their choices and implications.”

Resources

CMDA’s Ethics Statement on Human Stem Cell Research
Truth About Stem Cells with David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)
Just Add Water – Stem Cells

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