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Study: Adult stem cells successful in restoring sight

WASHINGTON (BP)–Adult stem cells have restored sight to more than three-fourths of patients blinded by chemical burns to their eyes, according to a new research study.

The results, reported at the International Society for Stem Cell Research meeting in San Francisco, showed success in 77 percent of people in the study after one or two procedures, according to Bloomberg News. It showed partial success in 13 percent of the cases and failure in 10 percent.

Italian researchers tracked participants in the study for an average of three years, some for as many as 10 years.

The procedure involved taking healthy stem cells from a patient’s eye and, after growing them, layering the tissue onto the injured eyes, Bloomberg reported. The stem cells were taken from the limbus, which is at the intersection of the cornea and the sclera, the white portion of the eye. The cells produced a healthy cornea in the successful cases, resulting in an eye that is normal in color and appearance.

“The patients, they are happy, even the partial successes,” said lead researcher Graziella Pellegrini of the University of Modena’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, according to Bloomberg. “We have a couple of patients who were blind in both eyes. Can you imagine for these patients the change in their quality of life?”

The study involved treatment of 112 people.

The method may assist in other therapies, a researcher said.

“This is bigger than just the surface of the eye,” said Ivan Schwab, a stem cell researcher at the University of California-Davis, according to Bloomberg. Schwab said it may work on regenerating “livers or other organs.”

The study is another success for adult, or non-embryonic, stem cells, which have produced therapies in trials for at least 73 ailments in human beings, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. Embryonic stem cell research, which results from the destruction of human embryos, has yet to generate successful treatments in human beings.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.