Eye stem cell trial given go-ahead
Embryonic stem cells are to be used to treat an inherited blinding disorder in a ground-breaking UK trial that has been given the go-ahead.
Doctors at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London will transplant laboratory-grown retinal cells into patients with advanced Stargardt disease.
The Phase I study, which should take place within the next few months, is designed to investigate the safety of the treatment.
Stargardt disease is a form of macular degeneration that causes disabling loss of sight in young people.
Professor James Bainbridge, who will head the trial, said: "There is real potential that people with blinding disorders of the retina, including Stargardt disease and age-related macular degeneration, might benefit in the future from transplantation of retinal cells.
"The ability to regenerate retinal cells from stem cells in the laboratory has been a significant advance and the opportunity to help translate such technology into new treatments for patients is hugely exciting. Testing the safety of retinal cell transplantation in this clinical trial will be an important step towards achieving this aim."
A Moorfields spokeswoman said details such as how many patients will take part in the trial were not yet known.
The procedure uses retinal cells grown in the laboratory from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).
Stem cells extracted from early-stage embryos are "pluripotent", meaning they have the potential to become virtually any kind of tissue in the body.
However, the technology is controversial since it necessitates the destruction of human embryos, albeit ones that only consist of a pinhead-sized bundle of cells.