Embryonic stem cell therapy closer to human trials

Nov 19, 2009 by Mira Oberman

Embryonic stem cell therapy got a step closer to the clinic Thursday after US researchers said they filed a request for government approval of human trials.

The trials would involve 12 patients losing their sight to a currently untreatable disease called Stargardt, which is one of the most common forms of juvenile blindness.

The treatment would consist of a single injection of retinal cells derived from .

Previous studies in rats and mice have found that the treatment prevented further vision loss without adverse side effects, said Robert Lanza, the chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology.

It works by replacing lost retinal cells -- called retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) -- which maintain the photoreceptors needed for vision.

"If you start to lose these RPE, the environment for the photoreceptors degenerates," Lanza said in a telephone interview.

"By putting these RPEs back in you can prevent the loss of these photoreceptors and prevent blindness."

The trials could begin as early as the beginning of next year if the Food and Drug Administration grants approval, Lanza said.

This is just the second proposal for a clinical trial of embryonic stem cell therapies that has been submitted for approval, he added.

The other project, which would address , has been placed on hold and is not expected to begin before the third quarter of 2010, according to a recent press release from California-based Geron.

"After years of research and political debate, we're finally on the verge of showing the potential clinical value of embryonic stem cells," Lanza said.

"The field desperately needs a big clinical success."

Embryonic is controversial because are destroyed in order to obtain the primitive cells capable of developing into almost every tissue of the body.

But it also holds great promise for treating cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and other diseases and even growing transplantable organs and tissues.

Researchers have found a way to sidestep both the controversy and the difficulty of working with embryonic stem cells by reprogramming ordinary skin cells into stem cells.

But this method is still so new that it could take years to replicate the experiments already done with embryonic stem cells and build up similar banks of tested cell lines, Lanza said.

"That is not a substitute certainly in the next several years for embryonic ," he said.

The Massachusetts-based company will be seeking approval for a human trial using similar methods to treat age-related macular degeneration, Lanza added.

(c) 2009 AFP

Explore further: Antioxidant found in grapes uncorks new targets for acne treatment

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Skin cells turned into stem cells

Aug 22, 2005

The controversy over embryonic stem cell research may become moot with a procedure that turns skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells.

Stem cell breakthrough gets closer to the clinic

May 28, 2009

The technology for versatile, grow-in-a-dish transplant tissue took a step toward clinical use Thursday when researchers announced they have found a safe way to turn skin cells into stem cells.

Recommended for you

Scientists discover gene controlling muscle fate

18 hours ago

Scientists at the University of New Mexico have moved a step closer to improving medical science through research involving muscle manipulation of fruit flies. They discovered in the flight muscles of Drosophila ...

Study clues to aging bone loss

18 hours ago

In Canada, bone fractures due to osteoporosis affect one in three women and one in five men over their lifetimes, costing the health care system more than $2.3 billion a year.

User comments : 0