Umbilical Cord Blood May Save Your Vision
There is big news in the world of vision health. Scientists at Johns Hopkins have made a breakthrough in therapy for retinal damage, using stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood: Umbilical Cord Blood May Save Your Vision.
The retina is the layer that covers the interior of the back of the eye. This layer is covered in rods and cones—light-sensitive cells that turn the light energy bouncing off of objects around you into signals that your brain interprets as sight. Damage to your retina causes a loss of vision, and even blindness. Retinal damage can be caused by trauma, light damage, vitamin deficiency, disease, or even simple aging. Conditions such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy are common causes of retina damage. More than 2 million Americans age 50 and older have age-related macular degeneration, and more than 4.4 million Americans age 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy1.
For these Americans, and for retinal-damages sufferers the world over, this new research signifies a great step forward for eye health. The researchers used umbilical cord blood to grow virus-free stem cells . These stem cells were injected into the research subjects (mice with damaged retinas). This method has been tried using embryonic stem cells, but this was the first trial with non-controversial umbilical cord blood stem cells, and the results were comparable. These new stem cells "engrafted and repaired blood vessel structures in the retina" just as well as embryonic stem cells2.
More tests are underway in other laboratories, with increased support for a bank of these lab-grown stem cells available for scientific use around the world. This breakthrough may just be the step regenerative medicine needed in the treatment of more than one hundred diseases that destroy the retina, with the potential to save the vision of millions of retinal damage patients.
1. American Academy of Ophthalmology (2011). Eye health statistics at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.aao.org/newsroom/upload/Eye-Health-Statistics-April-2011.pdf.
2. Johns Hopkins Medicine (2014). Lab-grown, virus-free stem cells repair retinal tissue in mice. Retrieved from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/lab_grown_virus_free_stem_cells_repair_retinal_tissue_in_mice