One of the first uses of controversial embryonic stem cells in human beings has slightly eased a degenerative form of blindness without side-effects, scientists have said.
The results are preliminary, but publication of the research in The Lancet marks an important step for embryonic stem cells, which were hailed as a miracle cure after they were discovered in 1998 but then ran into ethical controversies.
The early-stage tests were carried out on two patients to see if the treatment was safe, and further studies will be needed to discover whether it really can improve eyesight.
One patient, a woman in her seventies, had a condition called dry age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world; the other was a woman in her fifties who had Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, the commonest form of vision loss among young people.
In the first four months, no signs of cancer, rejection or other safety concerns emerged and both patients recovered a little vision, although it is unclear how significant this was.
Source: The Times Story by Chris Smyth