Stem cell trial sets sight on blindness

by Jill U. Adams ,  Los Angeles Times | 2011-01-10

The FDA has OKd a new study aimed at fighting age-related macular degeneration.
About 10 million Americans suffer some degree of vision loss caused by age-related macular degeneration, and that figure is expected to grow as more baby boomers become senior citizens. There is no cure for the disease, but last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave a green light to an unusual clinical trial that seeks to restore patients' sight by employing human embryonic stem cells.

None of the stem cells will be injected into patients; instead, they are grown into another kind of cell that will be delivered to the back of the eye, where the retina is damaged by the disease. The hope is that the cells will help repair the damaged retinal tissue.

The company behind the trial, Santa Monica-based Advanced Cell Technology Inc., developed the therapy to treat Stargardt's macular dystrophy, a rare childhood version of macular degeneration that affects about 1 in 10,000 kids. The FDA gave the company permission to test the therapy in Stargardt's patients in November. However, if they work, the cells would have a much bigger effect as a treatment for age-related macular degeneration.

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