Stem cells & blindness

Published on Sep 18, 2004 07:15 PM IST

Some forms of human blindness may be treatable with cells from a patient's own bone marrow, says study.

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PTI | ByAsian News International, Washington

Researchers have suggested that some forms of human blindness may be treatable with cells from a patient's own bone marrow.

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Martin Friedlander at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and his team focused on a group of eye diseases called retinitis pigmentosa, in which cells in the retina break down over time, causing a gradual loss of vision and sometimes blindness.

They extracted a pool of stem cells from the bone marrow of adult mice and injected them into the eyes of newborn mice with a version of retinitis pigmentosa, before their retinas had begun to break down. The injections appeared to halt some of the eye's deterioration, particularly that of the cones, which are responsible for colour and fine vision.

The treated mice were also able to detect light shone into their eyes, whereas a group that did not receive treatment went completely blind. An injection of stem cells saved the sight of mice who would otherwise have gone blind.

"It's amazing," Nature magazine quoted Friedlander as saying.

Friedlander hopes that the sight of human patients with retinitis pigmentosa could be sustained with injections of their own stem cells, harvested from their bone marrow.

Presently there is no full proof treatment for the condition which affects around one in 3,500 people.

The technique is one of the most promising treatments for blindness to be discovered in recent years, said Lois Smith of Harvard University in Massachusetts.

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