There is some good news on the horizon for people suffering from advanced dry age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD). What is that news? Researchers from the National Eye Institute just published a study suggesting that the condition can be successfully addressed through injections of specialized stem cells capable of regenerating damaged retinal epithelial cells.
Moreover, the researchers say that they are ready to take their treatment to the clinical trial stage. A clinical trial would represent the very first treatment derived from induced pluripotent stem cells to treat disease and human beings. The only question now is whether or not they will be giving permission to proceed.
Pluripotent Stem Cells a Game-Changer
It is worth noting that there are a small number of stem cell treatments already proven successful to some degree. Bone marrow transplants and stem cell injections for osteoarthritis are but two examples. What makes this particular treatment so unusual is that it involves induced pluripotent stem cells.
A pluripotent stem cell is a stem cell capable of differentiating into any of the three germ layers found in human biology, explains Utah-based Apex Biologix. Though the cells occur naturally in the human body, stem cell function becomes impaired with age. Adult stem cells begin to lose their ability to self-renew as time goes on.
Science has overcome this natural phenomenon by taking healthy adult stem cells and genetically modifying them so that they behave more like fetal stem cells. The reprogrammed cells are known as induced pluripotent stem cells, so named because pluripotency is induced in cells that are otherwise unipotent or multipotent.
The cells are a game-changer for all sorts of disease. As long as they are not rejected by the recipient’s body, induced pluripotent cells can be coaxed to create virtually any kind of tissue. Researchers at the National Eye Institute believe that their treatment can coax a patient’s body to heal macular degeneration through the introduction of induced pluripotent stem cells.
What Happens Next
Although the researchers’ claims are certainly good news, there is no reason to suspect a marketable treatment any time soon. Seeking approval for a clinical trial is just one step in the long and complicated process of gaining regulatory approval. Once permission is given, researchers have to actually establish and conduct the trial.
Trial data must be analyzed for both safety and efficacy. It must be submitted to the FDA for further review. Yet the FDA might sit on the data for years before reaching a decision. And if they decide against approval, it’s back to the drawing board.
Assuming everything goes as smoothly as possible, a marketable stem cell treatment for macular degeneration could be just a few years away. It will not help patients already in the later stages of the disease, but it will certainly help patients in the earlier stages and those who haven’t even been diagnosed yet.
The Limitless Potential of Stem Cells
Dry macular degeneration is just one of many conditions that scientists are now looking at as possible candidates for stem cell treatment. As you’re reading this article, there are ongoing studies relating to cancer, heart disease, dementia-related diseases, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, and many, many more.
The fact of the matter is that we are finally beginning to understand the seemingly limitless potential of stem cells as a treatment tool. We’re coming to understand just how stem cells work and the role they play in human health. And the more we learn, the more we are coming to understand that harnessing their power could be truly transformational to modern medicine.