Reuters reports that doctors have been able to announce the first patients who have improved through the use of embryonic stem cells. One patient was suffering from Stargardt’s disease since she was a teenager, whereas the second presented a dry macular degeneration. Both patients were almost blind, but their condition improved dramatically after being treated with stem cells from a donated human embryo.
Stem cells are described by scientists as master cells which can differentiate into any of the 200 kinds of cells in the human body. The treatment is now subject to controversies, but given the progress that the two middle aged woman have made, this new technique might be accepted in the future. Moreover, the first two patients did not suffer any adverse effects as a result of the treatment.
The 51-year-old graphic artist suffering from Stargardt’s disease was first injected with days-old embryo into her eyes and a week later she was able to count her fingers. She continued to show progressive results; after a month she was able to read the top five letters on the eye chart. At present she can distinguish color and contrast, she started using her computer and for the first time in many years, the 51-year-old lady can read her watch and thread a needle.
The 78-year-old patient who was suffering from macular degeneration was nearly blind and her condition prevented her from doing her own shopping. After the embryo cells injection she was able to visit the local mall again.
Dusko Ilic, senior lecturer in stem cell science at Kings College London told the press that our interest should not focus on vision improvement, but rather on the safety findings. He further stated that not all blind patients will be able to see with the help of the stem cells; therefore, people should not expect such changes to take place.
Doctors are still skeptical about the use of stem cells; the fact that these can turn into any type of cells in the human body is precisely what makes them risky. This property can lead to the formation of teratomas, a type of tumor that appears when stem cells differentiate into a profusion of cell types. In addition, the patient’s immune system can reject the transplanted cells.