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There are several holy grails of modern medicine like curing paralysis, eliminating miscarriage, and turning back the ravages of time. Currently, stem cells are being explored to achieve these ultimate goals, but recently stem cells were successfully used in two clinical trials that are making big waves on one of medicine’s other ultimate goals – restoring sight.

While the treatment can’t be found in the ophthalmologist’s office yet, two clinical trials are showing promise in using embryonic stem cells to treat acute macular degeneration (AMD), specifically the dry type, by injecting the cells into the retina. The trials were conducted at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. “We’re encouraged by the results thus far,” said lead investigator Eyal Banin, in a press release, “But this is just a first step in the long road towards making regenerative cell therapy a reality in macular and retinal degeneration.”

The study used embryonic stem cells that had been coaxed into specializing into retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells that help support a healthy retina. These cells become damaged and malfunction during cases of AMD. Using stem cells scientists could replace diseased or damaged cells with healthy new ones. The patients in the trial reported no adverse effects and better vision. Ninel Z. Gregori, the leader of the second study at the University of Miami, was pleased with the results. “RPE cells appear to be well tolerated in the human eyes,” said Gregori, “This study supports further development of human embryonic stem cell-derived RPE for degenerative diseases of the macula.”

The clinical trials in Jerusalem could give new life to those suffering from AMD and joins hundreds of others across the world that are making use of stem cells for a myriad of cures. Kenneth Pettine MD (retired) of Colorado recently completed his three-year clinical trial that demonstrated mesenchymal stem cells could be used to reverse degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease suffered by millions of Americans.

Researchers like Banin, Gregori, and Pettine see the stem cell as the ultimate tool to progress modern medicine, and early clinical trials show they’re on to something. The promise of stem cells to treat several types of conditions could be right around the corner for millions worldwide.

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