You probably know that macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among the elderly. The disease affects the retina, a section of the eye that provides the kind of sharp, central vision needed to see objects clearly.
Indeed, age-related blindness affects between three and 10 million people in the U.S. alone, including some of your fellow Era readers.
So it’s no small news that a new type of treatment based on stem cells could provide a cure for blindness – and in the very near future.
As I explained on Tuesday, this is just one part of the exciting new field of adult stem cells.
A research team from Columbia University is responsible for this one.
Their findings center on induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. These are adult cells – culled from a patient’s own skin – that are tweaked to induce embryonic properties. Team members noted that, just like embryonic ones, IPS cells can grow to become a wide range of different human tissues and organs.
In this case, the transformed human skin cells were shown to restore vision in blind mice who suffered from macular degeneration.
In the study, team members got the IPS cells from a donor who is 53 years old. They added a cocktail of growth factors for use in the eyes of 34 blind mice that had a genetic mutation that caused their retinas to break down over time.
Control mice that got either saline or dormant cells showed no improvement in their vision. But mice that received the treatment had better vision that lasted well into old age.
“It’s often said that iPS transplantation will be important in the practice of medicine in some distant future,” noted team leader Dr. Stephen Tsang. “But our paper suggests the future is almost here. With eye diseases, I think we’re getting close to a scenario where a patient’s own skin cells are used to replace retina cells destroyed by disease or degeneration.”
And it gets better…
Just last Thursday, I was at in meetings at our headquarters in Baltimore, telling my editor how excited I was to tell my Era readers about several new adult stem-cell breakthroughs.
I predicted these adult stem cell lines will play a vital role in the future of the human race.
They are crucial for two main reasons:
- First, they’re amazing feats of science. Researchers found that they could take adult cells, like those found in your skin, and (through what seems more magic than science), give them almost the same properties as those cells that come from human embryos. That means the cells can grow to become tissue, bones, or even entire organs, like the brain and heart.
- Second, and more to the point, I and millions of others consider this branch of stem-cell science to be ethical. It’s not the same as using embryonic stem cells, which can be very disturbing – those cells often come from aborted fetuses. Thus, advances derived from these adult stem cells don’t carry with them that huge and troubling moral debate.
Yesterday morning, back in California, I woke up to learn that the Nobel committee agrees with me…
Just this week, the world’s top scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to the two men who pioneered this field for a series of experiments that (among other things) created the science of adult stem cells.
You cannot find a better scientific “stamp of approval” than the Nobel Prize. Now, researchers around the world will target adult stems cells with a passion that I predict will lead to a new round of key breakthroughs that will help us live to 100 and remain in robust health all the way there.
Indeed, I already have several new findings I can’t wait to share with you. These include a possible cure for blindness, new ways to combat brain disease, and achievements that will make this treatment option far healthier. It’s far too much to fit in one article, so I’m going to do an adult stem cells series:
- Part One: Today, I’ll tell you the story behind the winning of the Nobel Prize.
- Part Two: The next piece will look at a possible cure for age-related blindness.
- Part Three: I will conclude by telling you about more breakthroughs you must know about, including something I call the New Fountain of Youth.
Let’s get started…