Embryonic Stem Cells Exhibit Long-Term Effectiveness, Safety

In small study, vision improved in over half of 18 people with degenerative diseases of the eye

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new study is the first to show the long-term safety of embryonic stem cell transplants to treat human disease. The study was published online Oct. 15 in The Lancet.

In the new study, human embryonic stem cells were first prompted to develop into retinal pigment epithelial cells. They were then transplanted into nine people with Stargardt's macular dystrophy, and another nine with dry atrophic age-related macular degeneration.

Patient outcomes were tracked for up to three years after transplant. No signs of either hyperproliferation or immune system rejection were found in any of the treated eyes after a median follow-up of 22 months, and the only adverse events were linked not to the transplanted cells, but to the eye surgery or immune system suppression needed for the transplant. Overall, 10 of the 18 patients said they had significant improvements in their vision, and this improvement was only seen in the eyes that had received the stem cell treatment.

"Our results suggest the safety and promise of human embryonic stem cells to alter progressive vision loss in people with degenerative diseases and mark an exciting step towards using human embryonic stem cells-derived stem cells as a safe source of cells for the treatment of various medical disorders requiring tissue repair or replacement," study co-lead author Steven Schwartz, M.D., of the Jules Stein Eye Institute in Los Angeles, said in a journal news release.

The study was funded by the U.S.-based company Advanced Cell Technology.

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