Embryonic stem cells successfully used in the treatment of blindness

Sue Freeman, 78, washing brussel sprouts four months after stem cell treatment
Sue Freeman, 78, washing brussel sprouts four months after stem cell treatment

Researchers have successfully treated two blind women by using embryonic stem cells (ESCs).

This research has been done by researchers at Jules Stein Eye Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, and published online in the January 23 issue of the journal The Lancet.

Women, who were treated, were suffering from macular degeneration – worsening central vision – as a result of retina cells dying. One of the women, in her 70s, suffered from dry-age related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in the West. While the other, in her 50s, suffered from Stargardt disease, which is the most common form of macular degeneration in younger patients. Both had very poor vision and were registered as blind.

Both the patients were given an injection containing 50,000 of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells derived from embryonic stem cells into one of their diseased eyes. Researchers found improvement in the vision i.e. old woman in her 70s was able to read 28 letters on sight test chart, before treatment she was able to read only 21 letters and woman in her 50s was able to see finger movements more better, previously she was only able to detect hands.

Dr Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and one of the study authors, commented: “Despite the progressive nature of these conditions, the vision of both patients appears to have improved after transplantation of the cells, even at the lower dosage.

“This is particularly important, since the ultimate goal of this therapy will be to treat patients earlier in the course of the disease where more significant results might potentially be expected.”

Researchers have also found that the procedure is safe and didn’t show any signs of rejection or abnormal cell growth.


Steven D Schwartz, Jean-Pierre Hubschman, Gad Heilwell, Valentina Franco-Cardenas, Carolyn K Pan, Rosaleen M Ostrick, Edmund Mickunas, Roger Gay, Irina Klimanskaya, Robert Lanza, (2012). Embryonic stem cell trials for macular degeneration: a preliminary report. The Lancet, DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60028-2


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