Not often does news make people feel better about their mortality but this is one does. We all have heard about stem cell and stem cell research but many have only heard about them outside of the intense argument regarding embryonic stem cells. Now researchers in Italy may just have answered the prayers of so many blind by burns to see clearly again.
“Dozens of people who were blinded or otherwise suffered severe eye damage when they were splashed with caustic chemicals had their sight restored with transplants of their own stem cells – a stunning success for the burgeoning cell-therapy field, Italian researchers reported Wednesday.” “The treatment worked completely in 82 of 107 eyes and partially in 14 others, with benefits lasting up to a decade so far.” “One man whose eyes were severely damaged more than 60 years ago now has near-normal vision.” “In the study, published online by the New England Journal of Medicine and partly funded by the Italian government, researchers took a small number of stem cells from a patient’s healthy eye, multiplied them in the lab and placed them into the burned eye, where they were able to grow new corneal tissue to replace what had been damaged.” “The Italian study involved 106 patients treated between 1998 and 2007.” “Most had extensive damage in one eye, and some had such limited vision that they could only sense light, count fingers or perceive hand motions.” “Many had been blind for years and had had unsuccessful operations to restore their vision.” “Researchers followed the patients for an average of three years and some as long as a decade.” “More than three-quarters regained sight after the transplant.” “An additional 13 percent were considered a partial success. Patients with superficial damage were able to see within one to two months.” “Those with more extensive injuries took several months longer.” “Currently, people with eye burns can get an artificial cornea, a procedure that carries such complications as infection and glaucoma, or they can receive a transplant using stem cells from a cadaver, but that requires taking drugs to prevent rejection.” “Since the stem cells are from their own bodies, the patients do not need to take anti-rejection drugs.” “In the Italian study, the doctors removed scar tissue over the cornea and glued the laboratory-grown stem cells over the injured eye.” “In cases where both eyes were damaged by burns, cells were taken from an unaffected part of the limbus, the rim around the cornea, the clear window that covers the colored part of the eye.” “Adult stem cells, which are found around the body, are different from embryonic stem cells, which come from human embryos and have stirred ethical concerns.” (Chang, Alicia; Associated Press, Stem cells reverse blindness caused by burns, Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org).
It must be made clear that this procedure works only if doctors have an undamaged part from which to draw the stem cell and grow them in the lab. These results may have been described by some of those in the study as a miracle but it is more a miracle of science than complete divine intervention. This result shows just how important a role science plays in our world and how far behind we are when it comes to finding a cure for the most aggressive diseases around.