Can stem cells make the blind see again?

Ten patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa have had their eyesight restoredincluding a woman who had only 17 percent of her vision left By Anne A. Jambora Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANELLE Jose (left) whose vision has been restored. Dr. Harvey Uy is part of a three-man team that tested stem cell therapy for vision restoration in retinis pigmentosa. ROMY HOMILLADA

Making the blind see may no longer be an outrageous feat encountered only in books. What was once labeled a miracle is now the subject of intense study by the scientific community. The key to restoring vision? Why, yes, stem cell therapy, of course.

The stem cell therapy that began in November 2011, while still limited to the cure of the inherited eye disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP), has already restored the eyesight of 10 subjects.

RP is a degenerative disease that has, until today, no known cure. It is the most common inheritable cause for blindness1.5 million people around the world are blind from it.

RP is a group of hereditary eye disorders that affects the retinas ability to respond to light, causing people to slowly lose their vision until they go completely blind.

For most people afflicted with RP, when the slow death of the retinal photoreceptor cells occurs, the peripheral vision gradually darkens until one is left with a tunnel vision. Over time, the tunnel vision becomes smaller until one day everything becomes completely dark, when blindness finally settles in.

The inevitable progress of the disease can begin in a persons teens, such that they become completely blind by the time they reach adulthood.

There is no other more devastating eye disease than retinitis pigmentosa, because they start off life with fairly good vision, said Dr. Harvey S. Uy, vice president of the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology and research fellow in ophthalmology at the Research and Biotechnology Division of St. Lukes Medical Center.

100,000 Filipinos

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Can stem cells make the blind see again?

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