In Brief

A Japanese man has become the first recipient of donated,
reprogrammed stem cells as a treatment for macular degeneration.
If the treatment proves effective against the age-related eye
condition, it could halt or prevent the vision loss of the 10
million people in the U.S. who have macular degeneration.

A New Treatment for Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of progressive
vision loss with
almost 10 million Americans
affected by the disease.
Currently, there are no known cures for the
condition — although stem cells might change that

Macular degeneration occurs when the central portion, the
macula, of the retina is deteriorated. This is where our eyes
record images and send them to the brain through the optic
nerve. The macula is known for focusing our vision,
controlling our ability to read, recognize faces, and see
objects clearly.

A Japanese man in his sixties is the world’s
first person to receive induced pluripotent stem (iPS)

cells donated by a different individual. Rather than
tip-toeing around
the ethics of embryonic stem cells
, scientists were able
to remove mature cells from a donor and reprogram them into
an embryonic state, which then could be developed into a
specific cell-type to treat the disease. Physicians
cultivated donated skin cells that were transplanted onto the
man’s retina to halt the progression of his age-related
macular degeneration.

While the man’s first surgery was a success, the doctors have
said they will make no more announcements about his progress
until they have completed all five of the planned procedures.
While the effectiveness of this technique cannot be evaluated
until the fate of the donated cells and the progression of
the patient’s macular degeneration have been fully
monitored, there is increasing interest in using
iPS cells for theraputic purposes.

Sharing Stem Cells

A similar therapy was performed at the Kobe City Medical
Center General Hospital in Japan in September 2014, but with
a slight difference. In this case, the
patient received her own skin cells
reprogrammed into
retinal cells. As hoped, a year after the surgery her vision
had no decline, seemingly halting the macular degeneration.
Four more patients in the clinical trial are expected to
receive donor cells as well.

The donor-cell procedure, if successful, could help pave the
way for the iPS cell bank that Shinya Yamanaka is
establishing. An iPS cell bank would allow physicians find
the perfect iPS donor per each patient’s biological
signatures. Yamanaka is a Nobel-prizewinning scientist at
Kyoto University
pioneered the iPS cells

Yamanaka’s idea of a iPS cell bank has the potential
to revolutionize modern medicine. It would provide
patients with ready-made cells immediately, giving a
widespread population access to more treatment options
by lower all-around costs. While the risk of genetic
defects or a poor donor match still remains, the new
procedure could offer enormous advantages compared
to other alternatives.

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