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:
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.
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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