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Sponsored by Rapid Solicitors Eye disease victim first in Europe to undergo stem cell treatment

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

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a MAN from Yorkshire with a rare and devastating eye disease has become the first in Europe to be given a controversial treatment using human embryonic stem cells which doctors hope could allow him to see again.

Scientists announced yesterday how “ground-breaking” early results from a trial in the United States have revealed two legally blind patients have shown signs of improved vision four months after receiving stem cell implants.

One, a woman in her fifties suffering from Stargardt’s disease, went from being unable to read any letters in a standard eye test to reading five letters.

The other patient, a woman in her 70s with dry age-related macular degeneration, experienced an improvement that allowed her to read 28 rather than 21 letters.

Embryonic stem cells could transform medicine in years to come by triggering the development of regenerative treatments for a host of conditions.

Marcus Hilton, 34, of Wakefield, who runs two bars, became the first of 12 patients in Europe who will receive retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells derived from human embryonic stem cells during a 90-minute operation at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London on Friday.

He has suffered from severe Stargardt’s, a hereditary disease which causes loss of central vision, for as long as he can remember. He was seven when a problem was picked up at school.

“Besides being unable to drive, having the disease has an impact and I have had to engineer my life around it,” he said.

He is hopeful he could read books with his four-year-old daughter Amelia if the treatment is successful.

He said: “I’m over the moon they have had early results in America showing this treatment could work. It could change many people’s lives – to have some sight restored would be a dream come true.”

Prof James Bainbridge, consultant surgeon at Moorfields, who carried out the transplant, said: “There is real potential that people with blinding disorders of the retina, including Stargardt’s disease and age-related macular degeneration, might benefit in the future from transplantation of retinal cells.

“We hope that transplantation of healthy RPE cells might also help in other significant degenerative eye diseases affecting the retina for which there are no effective treatment options – particularly dry age-related macular degeneration which is the leading cause of blindness in Europe.”

Details of the US trial, published in The Lancet medical journal, reveal the two women were given transplants of retinal tissue grown in the laboratory from human embryonic stem cells.

In each patient, around 50,000 of the cells were injected through a thin tube into the back of one eye.

Human cells can be grown continuously in the laboratory. But their use is hugely controversial because they must originally be obtained from early-stage human embryos. These are normally the unwanted leftovers of IVF treatment.

Former president George Bush stopped federal funding of research into embryonic stem cell therapies in the US, but President Barack Obama lifted the ban in 2009.

Robert Lanza, of US biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology, who is leading the trial, said it had been over a decade since the discovery of human embryonic stem cells but these were the first transplants. Early signs were “very encouraging”. “Despite the progressive nature of these conditions, the vision of both patients appears to have improved after transplantation of the cells, even at the lowest dosage,” he said.

“This is particularly important, since the ultimate goal of this therapy will be to treat patients earlier in the course of the disease, where more significant results might potentially be expected.”

Prof Daniel Brison, co-director of the North West Embryonic Stem Cell Centre in Manchester, said: “Although the study is limited to safety considerations, very small in scope, and at a very early stage, this is nonetheless a ground-breaking moment for embryonic stem cell therapies.”

© 2012 Johnston Publishing Ltd.

Source: Yorkshire Post
1.0 from 3 votes
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