May 26, 2014

Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in adults 50 and older. When the macula, located in the retina, is damaged a person’s central vision begins to appear blurry, distorted or dark. Macular Degeneration can happen to anyone but those who have diabetes, smoke or have a family history of it have an increased chance of developing the disease. Also, race is a contributing factor; Caucasian persons have a higher rate of incidence than those of African American or Hispanic/Latino backgrounds.

Recent FDA-approved clinical trials using stem cells have given hope to those with Macular Degeneration, a condition that primarily affects the elderly, and Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, the leading cause of blindness in children. (Adult stem cells were used in the trials but cord blood banking is another viable source of stem cells that are also being researched.) In 2011, scientists were able to restore vision to two blind persons using stem cells1 to replace the dead, damaged or worn out retinal cells, and additional stem cell transplant studies are currently underway due to their success.

In another study using blind mice2, researchers injected stem cells into the rear of the mice’s eye. The stem cells replaced the damaged photoreceptors, which are very light-sensitive cells in the retina that provide sharp, central vision, and retinal pigment epithelium, helping to restore vision in the mice. The injected cells matured and responded properly to signals involved in typical retinal function, leading researchers to see the potential for human trials.

Researchers warn that these studies are not a “miracle cure” for all types of blindness, but it does offer hope for those with age-related Macular Degeneration for future treatments and the possibility of a cure. They are also hopeful that the same type of therapies could also be useful in the treatments of other kinds of vision loss, such as glaucoma and congenital eye defects. The use of cord blood stem cells could also hold promise in this treatment due to its increased likelihood of matching donors and recipients, as compared to stem cells from bone marrow.

Researchers warn that these studies are not a “miracle cure” for all types of blindness, but it does offer hope for those with age-related Macular Degeneration for future treatments and the possibility of a cure. They are also hopeful that the same type of therapies could also be useful in the treatments of other kinds of vision loss, such as glaucoma and congenital eye defects. The use of cord blood stem cells could also hold promise in this treatment due to its increased likelihood of matching donors and recipients, as compared to stem cells from bone marrow.


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