Stem cells to help fight blindness and strokes

Scottish scientists in Glasgow and Edinburgh plan to soon launch two cutting-edge experiments using stem cells - one to treat a common form of blindness (corneal blindness), and the other to treat victims of strokes.


AFP - Two separate trials are set to begin in Britain utilising cutting edge stem cell research in a bid to help treat victims of strokes and blindness, medical experts announced Monday.

Doctors are hoping to launch the world's first trial for a treatment that aims to improve the quality of life for thousands of stroke victims on patients in Glasgow in June, although the procedure must still be approved by an ethics committee.

The treatment, which uses cells taken from an aborted foetus that are to be injected into the brains of stroke victims to see if they can effectively regenerate damaged areas, was developed by Britain-based company ReNeuron.

"That single cell was expanded by means of technology so we can have something to treat many, many thousands of patients," said ReNeuron founder John Sindon, who is working with consultant doctor Keith Muir on the planned trial at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.

"You could make the argument that it would have otherwise gone to waste. The reality is that we're trying to turn that into something with a lasting effect."

Separately, a two-year trial involving 20 patients with corneal blindness will begin this month at the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh and the Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow.

The treatment being used involves using the stem cells of dead adult donors, rather than the more controversial research involving embryonic stem cells, and if successful could help millions of people around the world who suffer from corneal blindness, around 80 percent of whom are elderly.

As part of the process, adult stem cells are cultivated and then transplanted onto the cornea's surface.

"This study is the first of its kind anywhere in the world and it is exciting to be involved in such groundbreaking work," said Professor Bal Dhillon, who is heading the trial.

"I probably see two or three new cases of corneal disease every month. On a larger scale, it's a significant problem."

A similar study by the University of Pennsylvania in the United States last year found that people with inherited blindness saw dramatic improvements in their vision when a corrective gene was injected into their eyes.

Scientists believe stem cells, which are capable of developing into almost every tissue of the body, could prove key in finding a cure for a number of serious diseases, including also diabetes and cancer.

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