18 January 2019
Curing diabetes with stem cells? Everyone knew that would be hard. Parkinson’s disease? Harder. Alzheimer’s? Probably impossible. But age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness? That was supposed to be low-hanging fruit.
The cause of AMD is well-known, the recipe for turning stem cells into retinal cells works like a charm, and the eye is “immunoprivileged,” meaning immune cells don’t attack foreigners such as, say, lab-made retinal cells. Yet more than a decade after animal studies showed promise, and nearly eight years since retinal cells created from embryonic stem cells were safely transplanted into nine patients in a clinical trial, no one outside of a research setting (or a rogue clinic) is getting stem cell therapy for macular degeneration.
That may change soon. Researchers in California expect to launch a Phase 2 clinical trial of stem cell therapy for age-related macular degeneration this year, while a team from the National Institutes of Health is not far behind: It is planning the first study in humans using what are called induced pluripotent stem cells, which were discovered 12 years ago and won a 2012 Nobel Prize. These cells (iPSCs, for short) are made by sending plain old adult cells back in time, biologically, until they’re like embryonic stem cells — but without the ethical baggage those cells carry.
Read the full article on the STAT site