January 21, 2015

What is stem cell research’s impact to the medical community so far? Well, it’s changing lives! Advancements made in stem cell research, with adult stem cells in particular, are changing the way doctors treat patients today. Many diseases that were once considered incurable can now be treated, thanks to the advancements made by stem cell research scientists and experts. Practically no part of the body has been left unstudied when it comes to testing the efficacy of transplanted stem cells to treat diseases.

One area of the body, in particular, that will be receiving more attention soon is the eye. Researchers from the University of California in Irvine have received a grant to study the use of adult stem cells (potentially those found in cord blood) to reverse vision loss1. They will focus their research on retinitis pigmentosa (RP), specifically.

RP is rare form of severe blindness that destroys the rod and cone photoreceptors in the retina, which are responsible for its light sensing ability. While it is most commonly an inherited disease, it can also occur spontaneously due to a genetic mutation formed while in utero. With RP, only the cells in the back of the retina are affected, leaving the remainder of the optic system intact and functional.

This study will be conducted first on animals before seeking permission to conduct human trials. In the trial, immature progenitor cells will be transplanted into the eye of an RP patient in an effort to replace the dying or damaged cells.

The team feels that finding a cure for this degenerative disease could help speed up treatments for other similar progressive-wasting disorders, such as macular degeneration. They also theorize that other areas of the body affected by degenerative diseases, such as the brain and spinal cord, could benefit as well by applying the same basic stem cell techniques.

The incredible new discoveries made in stem cells research such as this have changed the way parents view their ability to ensure their child has the best medical options possible. Most parents once believed that the unknown future health needs of their children were not something they could prepare for, but today that idea is fading. Parents are now putting the control in their own hands when it comes to safeguarding their family’s access to matching stem cells. One way they do this is by choosing umbilical cord blood banking for their newborn children. Even families who have no known family medical history of inherited diseases understand that cord blood banking is a wise decision for their children. Cord blood contains a vast number of priceless, powerful adult stem cells that could, one day, be used by the child for medical treatments, such as those previously mentioned for the study. And cord blood banking means those precious cells are always protected.

  • Klassen, Henry, University of California; Retinal progenitor cells for treatment of retinitis pigmentosa. California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. (2014) Found online: http://goo.gl/rRVSo1
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