In the United States alone, over 7 million people – regardless of age, race, and gender – suffer from a visual disability, in statistics reported by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
Most conditions afflicting vision are irreversible and/or require advanced, invasive – and sometimes risky – techniques.
There are two types of Macular Degeneration – Stargardt macular degeneration and dry atrophic age-related macular degeneration.
In an historical feat of science, researchers say that human embryonic stem cells have restored the sight of several nearly blind patients suffering from macular degeneration.
According to the 2014 study, reported by CNN:
Researchers saw no signs of rejection of the cells and no abnormal growth, tumor formation or unwanted tissue types in any of the patients during that time period. On average, the vision of the patients improved about three lines on the standard eye chart.”
Stargardt macular degeneration
Stargardt macular degeneration is a genetic eye disorder that causes progressive vision loss, and is the leading cause of juvenile blindness.
Genetics Home Reference: Stargardt macular degeneration
dry atrophic age-related macular degeneration
Approximately 85% to 90% of the cases of macular degeneration are the “dry” (atrophic) type, and is the most common cause of vision loss in people over 50.
American Macular Degeneration Foundation: Dry Macular Degeneration
The study was funded by Advanced Cell Technology (now known as Ocata Therapeutics) and was touted by Chief Scientific Officer Robert Lanza as “the first report showing that the cells are safe in the long term and that they can actually help people.”
So can stem cells cure blindness? The answer is (technically) yes.
There are different interpretations of what blindness is, as it is not narrowly defined.
The National Federation of the Blind takes a broad view: encouraging persons to consider themselves as blind if their sight is bad enough to the point that they must use “alternative methods to engage in any activity that persons with normal vision would do using their eyes.”
While far from mainstream, and not yet readily available, stem cell research is showing promise to those afflicted with visual impairment and brings new hope to an age old problem – blindness.