Will Stem Cell Research Help Cure Eye Injuries & Diseases?

While persons born blind may have to wait longer for viable treatment options, those with compromised eyesight due to injury or disease have plenty of reasons to be excited about the future.

Stem cell research, only one of several regenerative medicine options presently gaining seemingly limitless momentum, is opening doors hitherto merely imagined.  Ophthalmologists should soon be able to offer the public promising treatment options because of this blossoming research.

What Everyone Should Know to Fully Appreciate These Advances

Because regenerative medicine is such a multifaceted, complex field, it’s best to acquaint oneself with the most basic concepts and terminology:

  1. A stem cell (e.g. an "oocyte stem cell") is said to be “totipotent”—that is, it has the capacity to reproduce relatively easily and to transform at will into just about any cell in a human’s body.  As such, these cells can, in theory, be turned into regenerative tools in order to repair or regenerate diseased, damaged or malfunctioning tissue. 
  2. There are various kinds of stem cells: umbilical human-induced, cord-blood-produced pluripotent (iPSCs, harvested from a patient’s own body) stem cells, embryonic (derived from human or animal fetuses—these are the types of stem cells that elicit moral and ethical objections), and the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) type of stem cells. 
  3. Most of the newest developments in this area of research have occurred in lab settings but clinical trials that include human participants are either taking place or being planned for the near future. For obvious reasons, more aggressive research may be taking place in other countries that don’t have all the red tape and oversight restrictions limiting research in the US.
  4. Everyone needs to be wary about claims out there that have not been confirmed or sanctioned by credible, licensed and respected health organizations, agencies and governments. Although there are good reasons to be optimistic and hopeful, much more research is still needed before this technology can be fully realized and realistically offered to the public on an ongoing, consistent and practical basis.

Why Is This Technology, Although Still In Its Infancy, Worth Celebrating?

Every eye care specialist in the world is, by now, aware of the recent extraordinary progress that has been made in ophthalmological stem cell research.  Researchers at the Ophthalmology Department of SUNY Upstate Medical University, for instance, have been able to show that retinal stem or progenitor cells (with the use of frogs) are able to re-grow and/or repair retinas in embryos undergoing development.  Such research can inspire viable treatments for vision damage or loss due to age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, etc.

At the same time, experts conducting research at Oxford University, introducing transplanted stem cells in mice that were blind, have proven that the malfunctioning light-sensing/processing layer of retinas can be properly repaired.  As a matter of fact, this research proved not only that retinas can be repaired but also the accompanying cytological mechanisms and architecture that are essential for good vision.

As an acknowledgment of the fact that not just new cells but also the development or discovery of new methods are needed in order to make this new technology work, scientists from the University of Sheffield have been successful at repairing corneas using a unique, custom-made  disc made out of biodegradable material.  As part of the process, stem cells (derived from human-donated amniotic membrane) are then grown, using special techniques, devices and facilities where they are allowed to regenerate or grow.  This technology offers new promising treatment options for injuries and diseases involving the cornea.

On a final note, those leading the way in regeneration medicine remind us that humans, in the fashion of some amphibians (i.e., salamanders), may one day, because of this new technology, be able to re-grow diseased, dysfunctional or damaged eye tissue or cells.  In time, a whole eye may be reproduced or re-grown, with the use of cloning and stem cell technologies; simply put, such a prospect is no longer as farfetched as it may once have seemed.

Conclusion

The use of stem cells, cloning and other forms of regenerative medicine in order to repair, heal or re-grow human eyes may soon be possible, considering all the progress being made every year.  In fact, your personal ophthalmologist may in the foreseeable future be able to offer you treatment options that can realistically be called “mind-boggling!”  Incredibly, it’s not a question of “if” but of “how soon?”

Copyright, 2021.  Fred Fletcher.  All rights reserved.

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9/22/2021 8:00:00 AM
Fred Fletcher
Written by Fred Fletcher
Fred Fletcher is a hard working Consumer Advocacy Health Reporter. Education: HT-CNA; DT-ATA; MS/PhD Post-Graduate Certificates/Certifications: • Project Management • Food Safety • HIPAA Compliance • Bio-statistical Analysis & Reporting • Regulatory Medical Writing • Life Science Programs Theses & Dis...
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Comments
You're right, Fred. What they're doing with this technology in other countries and behind closed doors by the government is something best left to the imagination. Luv your writings style.
Posted by Susan Blakely
Unfortunately there is still too much that we don't fully understand about stem cells and cloning. But Amber brings up an important point. More progress has been made in secret labs than has been publicized. This is probably more bad than it is "good" news. If only I had time to go into why I can say this.
Posted by Dr. Dario Herrera
I hope people know that the government is years ahead of the public and private industry on stuff like stem cell research and cloning. The military is always conducting secret research that we only find out about years later. As we catch up to the progress being made by the government and other countries there is no telling where this stuff can take us. Great work, Fred!
Posted by Amber Cruz
An oocyte is not a stem cell. It is what he lay person would refer to as the egg cell in a woman's ovary.
Posted by ALLEN Read
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