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Embryonic Stem Cell Retinal Implants Seem Safe, So Far

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the it's-that-or-the-lasik dept.

Medicine 91

An anonymous reader writes "A biotechnology company said Monday that results from the world's first human trial using embryonic stem cells to treat eye diseases suggested that the new procedure appears to be safe four months after the cells were injected into the eyes of two blind patients. The study also describes visual improvements in patients, and experts said the findings hold promise for treating blindness in patients with currently incurable conditions like age-related macular degeneration in older patients and Stargardt's Disease, a main cause of blindness in young people."

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This is truly good news (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38807763)

We're still way behind in visual prosthesis, so retinal regeneration is our best bet right now. I'm glad to hear this.

Re:This is truly good news (4, Insightful)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38807831)

The eye is a very complex organ though, so we would be behind. I'm glad to see progress, but even so, 4 months is a little short-term to say "no bad health effects". Given the cells are embryonic stem cells, I'm more concerned with the 10-20 year range.

I have one of the issues listed, and I seriously hope that they can do something about it, I'd prefer a biological rather than mechanical solution, however, four months is not a lot of time, especially when you are messing with something as important as the sense of sight.

Re:This is truly good news (4, Funny)

Rui Lopes (599077) | about 2 years ago | (#38807987)

[...] I'm glad to see progress [...]

I see what you did there. Oh wait...

Re:This is truly good news (1)

UnresolvedExternal (665288) | about 2 years ago | (#38808005)

[...] I'm glad to see progress [...]

Eye see what you did there. Oh wait...

FTFY

Re:This is truly good news (5, Insightful)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#38808015)

While sight certainly is important, these kinds of treatments are so new that we can't really predict how long we'll actually have to watch before we really know for sure. It could be the case that in another week the new retinal tissue is chemically indistinguishable from what should have been there, or they might already be—that is, after all, the point of this trial, which is really more of an experiment.

Suppositionally, though: given how the vision system develops in human infants, though, I would actually say that three years is probably enough time to be sure one of these treatments was a complete success. When people experience 5-10 year life spans after heart transplants, that's generally because of ancillary factors (replacement heart quality, vessels elsewhere in the body weakened by the same thing that led to the first heart giving out...) and not really the fault of the surgery (well, unless the weak spot is the point of fusion on the vessels.) Rejection happens pretty quick by comparison.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38808287)

err, you are right, the eyes or one of the first things to fully develop aren't they? I forgot about that. It's been too long.

With the use of stem cells especially since the differentiation and growth related factors won't be there in the same amounts as during development, i'd still be worried about things like cancer. Chances are, in an adult, they'll be missing the growth factors that would, nominally, cause those issues, but I'd still be a bit skeptical.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#38811021)

Actually, the absence of proper growth factors is a pretty fair thing to worry about. I don't know enough about stem cell treatments to make a proper comment, but having been exposed to my share of developmental biology I'm often surprised at how well these things actually work, because when a baby worm, human, or mouse is developing, there are a lot of growth factors that are responsible for directing the cells' development, and no tall of them are entirely inside of the cell. (For a basic example, think about puberty: that's the result of a few very specific pituitary hormones. Not totally sure if every organ in the body would be able to develop from stem cells properly without going through its own simulated puberty.)

Re:This is truly good news (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#38813089)

It's ok. I don't remember much about my eyes developing either. In my defense, I was young at the time.

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38808031)

Weren't the test patients in their 70s? I'm pretty sure the 10-20 year range for health effects is not a huge concern for them.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38808315)

Yeah, Some of those issues (or very similar issues) could affect people as early as their 20s, in these cases, it would be very relevant. Test treatments like this, aren't as much focused on the current patients, but on prospective patients.

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38808063)

I'd prefer a biological rather than mechanical solution, ....

What?! Not even a bionic eye that goes "whinninninninninninninninninninninn" when zooming in on something?

Re:This is truly good news (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38808325)

Shit, do you think I want every chick I look at to know I'm zooming in on her boobs?

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38809185)

don't forget you also need the ability to record and playback.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 2 years ago | (#38808079)

Long term health effects need to be known. As it is stem cells, what if they reproduce incorrectly? This would essentially be cancer, and right at the optic nerve which is really an extension of the brain. Pretty much too close for comfort.

Re:This is truly good news (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38808189)

As long as Planned Parenthood is still operating, we'll have plenty of embryonic stem cells.

It's stupid to base any therapy on something that requires harvesting fetuses.

Re:This is truly good news (5, Informative)

Garridan (597129) | about 2 years ago | (#38809155)

Please, inform yourself. This sort of ignorance is embarrassing. "Harvesting fetuses" is not how we get embryonic stem cells. Excess fertilized embryos are a byproduct of in vitro fertilization. These embryos (not fetuses) would be destroyed if not donated to science. The fertilized embryos are on the order of 50-150 undifferentiated cells -- not a fetus -- in a microscope, one appears to be a spherical blob. At this point, the stem cells are "cultured" -- fed, and allowed to multiply, just like we grow bacteria or other single-celled organisms.

Re:This is truly good news (1, Informative)

mbeckman (645148) | about 2 years ago | (#38809967)

Ignorance is embarrassing, Garriden. When you say "harvesting fetuses is not how we get embryonic stem cells; excess fertilized embryos are a byproduct of in vitro fertilization," you neglected to note that the difference between "embryo" and "fetus" is an arbitrary time interval (eight weeks post in vitro). There is no definitive functional demarcation between the two stages. For example, at week 5 the embyo has a heartbeat. At week 7 the head eyes develop. Week 9 brings toes, eyelids, and ears form. No single developmental step draws a bright line between embryo and fetus.

.

The difference between harvesting embryos and harvesting fetuses is purely semantic. Both are fertilized, living cells, and both are, in the eyes of the U.S. Supreme Court, a person when gestating within a woman. On a scientific level, if they're people within the womb, they're still people outside the womb. Science doesn't make the legal distinction based on location.

Without a doubt we are harvesting people to get embryonic stem cells. You can argue the ethics of harvesting people in the service of a greater good if the people would be thrown away anyway. But the distinction between embryo and fetus is no divider between object and person. Please, inform yourself.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38810333)

If an embryo is a person, then every post-pubescent, pre-menopausal woman on Earth kills a person every month.

Fortunately, embryos are not people, so half of the 7 billion people on Earth are not, in fact, guilty of mass murder.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Saganaga (167162) | about 2 years ago | (#38811183)

Your ignorance is astounding. Please brush up on basic human reproduction before commenting here. Here's a hint: unfertilized egg != embryo.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

operagost (62405) | about 2 years ago | (#38811487)

It's frightening that someone modded that guy up. We must have the "how is babby formed" kid on here today.

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38810585)

Without a doubt we are harvesting people to get embryonic stem cells.

Yes, in the same sense that we are harvesting people to get cadavers for medical research.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Saganaga (167162) | about 2 years ago | (#38811279)

Not really. It is more like what the Chinese allegedly do to some of their prisoners (killing & harvesting their organs). The difference? Cadavers used for medical research are from people who died from some external effect (disease, accident). Embryos used to make stem cells would not die if they were implanted...in fact, they would grow and be born just like everyone else.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813341)

So? the fact is they are going to be thrown away. SO do we throw them away, or do we use them for science?

They are the byproduct of artificial insemination.

Plus, they aren't people, any more then your sperm is a person.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Saganaga (167162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813837)

Your statement comparing embryos to sperm is either a demonstration of profound ignorance of the process of human reproduction, or else just a willful disregard of fact. When do you think human personhood actually begins?

Let's try a thought experiment. Let's say that there are 10 embryos, all the product of artificial insemination. Five are used to create stem cells and in the process are killed. The other five are "rescued" and implanted in an adoptive mother's uterus and brought to full term.

Now, ten years later, let's imagine that it is decided that the five surviving embryos (now all ten year old children) need to be killed so that their organs can be harvested. By doing this thousands of people's lives can be saved through some revolutionary scientific discovery.

My question: if you are not comfortable with killing the five 10-year old children, why is there a difference between this and killing the five embryos? I'm guessing it gets down to when you think personhood begins. It has nothing to do with the purpose for which the ten embryos were originally created. If that were the case, you shouldn't mind if the 10-year olds are killed since they were the byproduct of artificial insemination and were planned to be thrown away.

If you don't know when personhood begins, wouldn't it be prudent to have an abundance of caution when dealing with matters of life and death?

Re:This is truly good news (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38815043)

It's more than just "when", if fact "when" is only coincidental. It's a question of multiple aspects of "what". First, healthy human embryos have the potential to become human beings. Human beings are more important than dogs (more important to human beings, that is). Second, at early stages, embryos have nowhere near the abilities of even newborn dogs, yet we're willing to kill the occasional dog in the interests of science (that is to say, in the interests of improving the life of humans.) At what stage of development is it proper to say "in view of what this embryo is and what its potential is, it is proper to consider it more highly than a dog"?

Also coming into play is the issue that artificial [external] insemination involves embryos already outside a body, and that it is necessary to take positive action (implantation in a human female) for that embryo to become a full-fledged human being. This requirement of positive action to continue development is (as a moral issue) much different from an embryo already in a woman, which requires no action to continue development and positive action to end development. Furthermore, those unused embryos won't last forever; if not implanted they'll either be destroyed or degrade into uselessness. So why not use them?

We don't think it's proper to kill 10-year olds because of what they are, functioning human beings. That decision is based on what they are, not based on what their potential was 10-1/2 years ago. So although it is proper to give some consideration to potential, the preponderance of concern should be to what is.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Saganaga (167162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38815157)

You didn't exactly come out and say, but it seems to me that you are saying that embryos are in fact not human beings. That's a valid point of view, although one I don't agree with. Once you've made that determination, it really shouldn't matter whether or not the embryo is outside a woman's uterus or not.

It is also irrelevant whether or not it takes "positive action" for the embryo to continue to develop; that is also true for newborn infants (they must be kept warm, fed, etc., or they will die quite quickly), but I doubt you would suggest that newborns should be harvested.

And the argument that an unused embryo won't last forever seems specious to me: that argument could be made about any one of us in any stage. Consider the prisoner on death row: if not pardoned they'll either be destroyed (executed) or degrade into uselessness (die a natural death). So why not harvest their organs?

In conclusion, I still think the primary issue with abortion or stem cell research is whether or not an embryo/fetus is a human being, a legal person. All other arguments (and yours were good ones, I might say), just cloud the issue and don't get to the heart of things.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | more than 2 years ago | (#38816525)

The implant rate on IVF i've heard is about 10%. That would mean that, if put through the IVF procedure, only 1/10th of them would proceed onto person hood.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Saganaga (167162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38817355)

But this presumes that embryos aren't already persons before they're implanted. Again, my question is: when do you think we become persons?

Re:This is truly good news (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | more than 2 years ago | (#38824507)

My opinion is that person hood begins when an embryo enters into a situation that, given the maintenance of the status quo (no miscarriages, terminal genetic diseases etc), will develop into a human being. This is strictly my opinion, based off the logic that if the embryo does not yet have the potential to become a person in it's current environment, given the high failure rate of IVF, we shouldn't assume that every embryo is a human because 90% of them will never have the chance to become one, even if implanted.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Abreu (173023) | about 2 years ago | (#38810603)

Embryos are not people, and neither are corporations.

The USA and their Supreme Court are an embarrasment to humanity.

Re:This is truly good news (2)

mbeckman (645148) | about 2 years ago | (#38810751)

The telling question to see where the real issue lies is this one: do you believe a fetus just before birth is a person?

Re:This is truly good news (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813361)

It's irrelevent because we are talking about cells in a petri dish, not a 9 months fetus.

It's a extreme and irrelevant emotional appeal. Shame on you.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Saganaga (167162) | about 2 years ago | (#38811213)

So if an embryo is not a person, then when does "it" become a person, in your opinion? Do you know the answer? If you are not sure, then why are you willing to risk being wrong?

Re:This is truly good news (1)

morphotomy (1655417) | about 2 years ago | (#38812195)

It doesn't become a person, they either throw it out or grow it into a sheet in a petri dish.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Saganaga (167162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813107)

No, you are confused. The cells extracted from the embryo are grown in a petri dish into a sheet. But the embryo itself is killed in the process.

This still doesn't answer my original question: when in the process from conception to birth do you think the embryo/fetus become a person? That is the ultimate question that must be answered if we are to determine if embryonic stem cell research is ethical or not.

And if the question cannot satisfactorily be answered, in my opinion we should err on the side of caution and declare embryonic stem cell research unethical.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38815181)

Personhood is not a binary condition. During the process of development from a single cell to an adult, the degree of personhood (full humanity) increases. If an individual gets a disease that eats away his brain until he loses all contact with the world, his personhood decreases.

The question is not "is this a person", but "in the full context of what this life is, what it can do and what is required to keep it alive and well, is it enough of a person to say it has a certain degree of rights, and how much effort is proper to support its life?"

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Saganaga (167162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38815229)

I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one. In my opinion, a philosophy that allows for a "sliding scale" of personhood will always lead to horrific abuses, as has been shown throughout human history.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

DeadboltX (751907) | about 2 years ago | (#38811649)

Without a doubt we are harvesting people to get embryonic stem cells.

These embryos (not fetuses) would be destroyed if not donated to science.

Just saying.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Garridan (597129) | more than 2 years ago | (#38815893)

That's how in vitro fertilization works. We collect a dozen or so eggs, and splash a few thousand sperm on 'em. Some get fertilized, some don't. We overcollect the eggs because the surgery is invasive and always carries risk, not all eggs are viable, etc. As a result, in vitro fertilization usually results in more fertilized embryos than the mother is willing to carry. If you want to take issue with in vitro fertilization, that's another fight for another day. We're just talking about what happens to the embryos which are not implanted.

Curious thing: religious people tend to support in vitro fertilization because they tend to want to reproduce more than secular folk do. An unintended consequence of in vitro fertilization is the destruction of viable, fertilized embryos. This is not a subject of dispute. Is this not "killing" in the eyes of the church? What makes it ok, when embryonic stem cell research is not?

Re:This is truly good news (4, Interesting)

Garridan (597129) | about 2 years ago | (#38811921)

"Drawing a line" is a bit of a straw man. We're talking about hours after conception, not weeks. At this point in time, the cells are indistinguishable from one another. A featureless blob of cells.

I, too, reject the notion that at some magical instant, the embryo becomes a fetus. It's a very gradual process, in the first few hours of which, you've definitely got a lump of undistinguished cells, and 9 months later, you've definitely got a living thing (assuming everything goes ok). There's a lot of grey area, and drawing a line is a vast oversimplification.

Fact of the matter is, we're talking about embryos that are slated for destruction. We're talking about preserving those to save / better future lives. We aren't going around harvesting fetuses.

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38812551)

An embryo does become a person at "some magical instant:" At conception. It's not a gradual process at all. It's nearly instantaneous. The only reason people seek inception of personhood at some later time is to salve their consciences for the exploitation of these newly-formed persons, either for stem cells or pre-birth convenience. That the embryos are slated for destruction is merely an artifact of an earlier error: the failure to recognize in vitro conceptions as people.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Garridan (597129) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813111)

It's not a gradual process at all. It's nearly instantaneous.

Contradiction.

Re:This is truly good news (2)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38815383)

If an embryo becomes a "person" at conception, then the concept of "person" is severely degraded. With regard to what it can do at conception, a person is then inferior to any animal that doesn't attack human beings and any plant that can be safely eaten or used as a building material. It is only potential that gives an embryo at conception even hypothetical value. If you consider that the embryo might develop into a mass-murderer or a Bernie Madoff, demanding that it be brought to term because it has value as a person is unjustifiable speculation.

Living things act to preserve themselves, and to the extent that they can think they develop an (implicit or explicit) sense of value of their own life. It is from this sense of value that (after many additional considerations) the idea of a right of a person to his own life is developed. A thing without even a trace of a mechanism for thinking cannot be considered to have rights. If a brainless thing without rights is considered a "person", what's the point of the concept "person"?

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Sabriel (134364) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813153)

The GP used the phrase "50-150 undifferentiated cells". Does that mean there are no brain cells? And if so, do you still claim this is a person (rather than a clump of biological matter with the potential to be a person if it can reach a womb, etc)?

Unless we're going to invoke "souls", my demarcation point between person and non-person would have to be some degree of brain structure/activity (exactly what degree is a whole other ball of squick).

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38814107)

Of course I'm invoking Souls. Without a Soul, how does any life have value at all? That's one of the aspects of atheism I've never been able to understand. We're in the U.S., where our legal structure is based on the fundamental tenant from the Declaration of Independence that all people are created equal and "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life..." The Judeo/Christian view is that the Creator creates Souls, the Souls have unalienable Rights, and our government has undertaken explicitly to protect those Rights. Any demarcation point other than conception has no logical, scientific, or ethical basis. Any attempt to destroy life after conception is murder.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38815605)

"Value" is not a concept that exists outside of a context. A value (I'm not considering the sense of value="what I want" here) is something that helps to achieve a goal or supports a person's well-being (which, although somewhat static, is also a goal). For example, a car is of value to getting to the hardware store, food is of value to my life. Walls are of value toward the goal of keeping roofs off the ground.

Life, in and of itself, is not a value, it is the context within which living things have values. Living things, particularly those that think and act, have the goals of preserving and improving their lives. Things which help me preserve and advance my life are valuable to me , they are not necessarily valuable to another person whose goal is his life, not mine. They are certainly not of value to the universe at large, because the concept of value has no meaning in the context of the whole universe.

Thus, your question

Without a Soul, how does any life have value at all?

is a meaningless word salad. It can have no answer because it makes no sense. Of value to what or to whom? What the Dickens is it you are labeling with the word "Soul"?

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Sabriel (134364) | more than 2 years ago | (#38817171)

Dear AC, whether or not we have souls, your statements assume we're people at conception because we have souls at conception because we're people at conception... you might want to examine the fallacy of Circular Reasoning [wikipedia.org] .

Re:This is truly good news (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813299)

""embryo" and "fetus" is an arbitrary time interval "
no, it' not arbitrary. The fact that you don't understand that means you point of view is worthless.

It's based on Human embryogenesis. Look it up.

"For example, at week 5 the embyo has a heartbeat. At week 7 the head eyes develop. Week 9 brings toes, eyelids, and ears form. "
So?

" in the eyes of the U.S. Supreme Court, a person when gestating within a woman."
link.

"if they're people within the womb, they're still people outside the womb."
courts do not equal science.

There people outside the womb. Fetus inside the womb. If you don't understand why that is, STFU you clueless clod.

AS to the the aprents point:

Those are cells left over from a completly different procedure. Cell that would otherwise be thrown away.

If you want to rail against artificial insemination, then fine. Until you do, you are a hypocrite.

"Without a doubt we are harvesting people to get embryonic stem cells. "
sure, when looked at within your ignorance and logical fallacies. But in an actual scientific discuss void of you hyperbole and logical fallacies, it is not harvesting people and more the exfoliation is.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | more than 2 years ago | (#38816517)

If I remember correctly, only about 10% of fertilized eggs make it to implantation in IVF. I'm not sure if it's terribly higher than that for natural conception, but with such a dismal rate i'd say that the vast majority of embryos, if defined as people, essentially die of starvation. However, I doubt this fact is widely publicised.

However, due to the need to reconcile this with myself, I would call an embryo a fetus once it successfully implants onto a womb. Without a womb, there is no chance at life. And a failed implantation probably ends in embryo death faster than the brain would have a chance to develop.

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38810325)

As you have already been schooled as to your ignorance, I'll simply add this.

The therapy depends on people making babies. Whether they are made outside the womb and frozen or not is irrelevant.

Suppose the technology of in vitro becomes so mature that there is pretty much a 100% success rate? Now you have no more supply and all these people needing it. Kinda of screwed yourself eh?

The age of embryonic stem cells is over. Adult stem cells have shown the same if not better promise as embryonic stem cells.

The only people defending their use these days people with political axes to grind.

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38811209)

YHBT.

Re:This is truly good news (2, Informative)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 2 years ago | (#38808259)

The eye is a very complex organ though, so we would be behind. I'm glad to see progress, but even so, 4 months is a little short-term to say "no bad health effects". Given the cells are embryonic stem cells, I'm more concerned with the 10-20 year range.

I have one of the issues listed, and I seriously hope that they can do something about it, I'd prefer a biological rather than mechanical solution, however, four months is not a lot of time, especially when you are messing with something as important as the sense of sight.

From the actual researchers, they have two major concerns - 1) whether the treatment is permanent and 2) rejection issues. Both are long term concerns like the 10-20 year range you worry about. With regards for the rejection issues, they are quite confident that they will be able to repeat the results using stem cells derived from the patient's skin.

They say they didn't go this route, even though less risky to the patient, because their grant was specifically to use embryonic stem cells in the treatment.

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38808319)

The eye is a very complex organ though, so we would be behind. I'm glad to see progress, but even so, 4 months is a little short-term to say "no bad health effects". Given the cells are embryonic stem cells, I'm more concerned with the 10-20 year range.

I have one of the issues listed, and I seriously hope that they can do something about it, I'd prefer a biological rather than mechanical solution, however, four months is not a lot of time, especially when you are messing with something as important as the sense of sight.

From the actual researchers, they have two major concerns - 1) whether the treatment is permanent and 2) rejection issues. Both are long term concerns like the 10-20 year range you worry about. With regards for the rejection issues, they are quite confident that they will be able to repeat the results using stem cells derived from the patient's skin.

They say they didn't go this route, even though less risky to the patient, because their grant was specifically to use embryonic stem cells in the treatment.

Mod parent down. A funded Phase I/II trial is hardly a grant.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | about 2 years ago | (#38808513)

Rejection is hardly a 10-20 year worry either, either the medicines handle it, or they don't. Although unlikely, potential cancer issues are a bigger concern, and I'm not sure "rejuvenated" (i.e. usually demethlyated) highly differentiated cells are going to be much better.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

oKtosiTe (793555) | about 2 years ago | (#38808715)

The eye is a very complex organ though, so we would be behind. I'm glad to see progress, but even so, 4 months is a little short-term to say "no bad health effects". Given the cells are embryonic stem cells, I'm more concerned with the 10-20 year range.

As someone also suffering from one of the diseased potentially cured by this, I may not be ready to wait up to twenty years for long-term results, since I may very well be blind by then, thank you very much. With that said, four months is a very short time.

Re:This is truly good news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38809891)

You are welcome to undergo this experimental procedure. While I would not outright encourage it, I would applaud your courage and (possible) sacrifice for medical and scientific progress.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#38808883)

I suspect by "safe so far" they are worried less about long-term erosion of the gains to vision(which would be unfortunate; but if you are treating blind people, or those headed there fast, not a major reduction over the status quo); but the old "stem cells turning into delightful cancer, rather than the intended tissue" problem...

That has, historically, been a major issue with using them. If you can get the little things to grow at all, they have a nasty tendency to exercise their pluripotent tendencies in order to form tumor lumps, rather than the tissue you want. Once you get around that issue, you can start the work of fine-tuning the tissue you do get.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

FingerDemon (638040) | about 2 years ago | (#38809425)

My understanding of this (non scientist view) is that they found stem cells grown in isolation of other cells tended to become tumors. But when placed in the presence of similar cells or with cells of the areas of the body where they needed to grow, they were more likely to behave as hoped and turned into the needed cells. Maybe some kind of cellular chemical signature guidance to the stem cell of what to do. But what a gamble, you have to put the stem cells right into the affected area where if things go wrong, it would be very hard to fix. This is why I thought they were working towards using stem cells to grow new teeth since they could implant them and then if necessary pull them out if things went wrong. Teeth are apparently similar in many ways to more sophisticated internal organs, so a lot would be learned by perfecting it. Plus, it would totally be marketable if you could grow people brand new perfect teeth.

what is the worst can happen... (1)

dionye (2560101) | about 2 years ago | (#38809379)

...if it don't work, you go blind?

to my understanding, these folks are either already blind or going to be if untreated. between going/state blind versus gambling for a cure or going blind, I think being able to roll the dice is a good thing. do we really need to wait 10-20 year before approving a treatment that in the worst case cannot make it worst than what the patient is already now?

Re:This is truly good news (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#38813071)

"Given the cells are embryonic stem cells, I'm more concerned with the 10-20 year range."

wha? what do you think you will suddenly give birth to your own twin?

And then he will builds a cyborg suit and try to kill you?

Re:This is truly good news (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38818897)

4 months is a little short-term to say "no bad health effects".

Er, if you're going blind anyway I'd think it was worth the risk, or I'd not have gotten my CrystaLens implant.

I agree about the biological vs mechanical, provided the biological is from your own tissues (like this research) and not from a cadaver. I have a friend with donated corneas (and a donated liver) who has to take anti-rejection drugs the rest of his life. All other things being equal, I'd rather not have to take pills every day. I'm very happy with my implant; my 20/400 vision is now better than 20/20. I hope they come up with a cure for your condition.

Re:This is truly good news (4, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#38807903)

The main reason for this (for those of you who haven't seen a neocognitron in a fourth-year machine learning course) is that the eye does a lot more pre-work for the brain than just blitting a grid of pixels down the optic nerve. Recent efforts [scienceagogo.com] attempted to do that, however. There's much more complex pattern recognition going on even at this most basic level, in addition to the loss of precision for the non-focal area, and that helps reduce the cognitive load to something we can fully utilize.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#38809211)

... helps reduce the cognitive load to something we can fully utilize.

Ah, the concept behind Peril Sensitive Sunglasses. Glad to see that nature figured it out first.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#38811467)

Not quite, although there's a better invention on the market: sunglasses pained black. Because we're all technically always in peril, and life is hard enough as it is.

How neocognitrons (and to some extent the human visual cortex) actually work is that they crunch down a bunch of dots into progressively more meaningful shapes; e.g. if you see three black pixels next to each other on a white background, it can simplify that into a more complex representation that means there's a horizontal line at that position. Over multiple iterations of complexity this loses precision, so that if you show someone a sign (very quickly) containing a bunch of different coloured shapes at the same time, they'll be able to tell you what shapes they saw and what colours they saw, but not necessarily the order, or the combinations of shape and colour.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813389)

we're always in peril? what do you do for a living, attach lasers to sharks that aren't sdeiatd in an underwater mine field...while fighting of Aquaman?
Always in peril, sheesh.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813511)

No, but I know someone who writes grant applications. That's pretty much the same, except lives are at stake.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#38808963)

It would be better news if they could do this with adult steam cell. A lot less ethical issues involved with those.

Re:This is truly good news (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38818651)

We're still way behind in visual prosthesis

Only where the retina is concerned, and they've come a long, long way with that, too. I was extremely nearsighted all my life, 20/400, until I got a CrystaLens, (an artificial lens capable of focusing)implaned in my left eye in 2006. That eye is now 20/16, far better than normal vision. I used to wear contacts, and used reading glasses as well, now I need no corrective lenses at all! It also curres farsightedness (even age-related; I turn 60 this year), astigmatism, and cataracts. I have a friend who has two donated corneas (no artificial corneas as of yet).

Before 1949 a cataract meant incurable blindness. Today a cataract means you'll be able to throw your glasses away. Behind? I think not.

I suffered a detached retina in 2008, and surgery corrected it without any loss of vision at all. Had I suffered that thirty years ago that eye would most probably be completely blind.

You don't know what you're talking about.

Does it work... (0, Flamebait)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 2 years ago | (#38807847)

...on the blindness of our leaders, politicians, and government?

It won't get any public grants then.

Re:Does it work... (-1, Offtopic)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 2 years ago | (#38808099)

Flamebait mod? Really? Learn sarcasm.

"Improved Slightly"? (1)

Redbaran (918344) | about 2 years ago | (#38808041)

From the article:

Researchers said that the procedure seemed to be safe and no signs of rejection or abnormal cell growth had been observed, and results show that patients’ vision improved slightly.

Can anyone do a better job of defining what exactly that means? Can they see some light now? Shapes? What?

Re:"Improved Slightly"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38808141)

Better than the control group.

Re:"Improved Slightly"? (3, Informative)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 2 years ago | (#38809129)

From: Stem Cell Treatment for Eye Diseases Shows Promise [nytimes.com]

Before the treatment, the woman with Stargardt’s was able to see the motion of a hand being waved in front of her but could not read any letters on an eye chart. Twelve weeks after the treatment, she was able to read five of the biggest letters on the eye chart with the treated eye, corresponding to 20/800 vision, according to the paper.

Ms. Freeman, [another woman] who lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., went to 20/320 from 20/500 vision six weeks after the treatment.

Obligatory XKCD (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38808107)

my mom has macular degeneration (2)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 2 years ago | (#38808363)

And I am excited about this research, but I would be much more interested in IPS stem cells. You see, my mom is one of those "abortion is bad m'kay?" Types who would oppose getting this treatment on moral grounds if the transplant wasn't cultured from her own tissue.

She scientifically savvy enough to know the difference.
(She does have a biology degree.)

I understand that this is a preliminary trial, but given the information we know about embryonic stem cells and the risks of developing teratomas, cancer and tissue rejection from them, in addition to the ethical concerns, shouldn't the limited supply of embryonic cell lines remain in research labs, and out of patients?

Using totipotent cells cultured from screend ips cells, guided in a petri dish to become macular precursor cells seems a more sensible solution, given that you reduce the risk of anomalous tissue growths (hair, etc...), reduce and or eliminate rejection, and the extended culture time let's you spot cancer precursor cells in the culture prior to transplant.

Or am I missing something here?

Re:my mom has macular degeneration (2)

guru zim (706204) | about 2 years ago | (#38808443)

The RPE cells that ACTC has in this trial were originally developed from a line that ended in termination of the fetus. ACTC does have a single cell extraction technique that extracts a single cell from the Blastomere stage of the embryo, but from what I've read changing to a line started from that process at this point would set the research back by introducing delays as the IND would need to be changed. NB: I own ACTC stock, I'm very interested and probably biased, but I'll try to accurately repeat what I've read other places. Take my opinion with a grain of salt, I'm a true believer :)

Re:my mom has macular degeneration (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 2 years ago | (#38808591)

There is no doubt that embryonic stemcells can theoretically cure any age related degenerative disorder, and a number of genetically inherited degenerative disorders.

Afterall, if left alone, these cells produce entire functioning bodies.

The problem comes from understanding the complex game of chemical "charades" these cells play with one another to control the way the cells differintiate.

I have no qualms about them being studied in a laboratory to unlock those secrets, but blindly injecting them into patients given what we have learned suggests this is a rash and dangerous enterprise. A totipotent culture can only become a specific tissue type, and is much safer. (Like bone marrow.) If cultured from the patient directly, the graft won't suffer host rejection either.

I just don't understand the desire to put potentially dagerous cell lines into patients who are deperate. It smacks of callousness and wrecklessness.

Re:my mom has macular degeneration (3, Informative)

guru zim (706204) | about 2 years ago | (#38808739)

These are differentiated Retinal Epithelial Cells (RPE). http://download.thelancet.com/flatcontentassets/pdfs/S0140673612600282.pdf [thelancet.com] This is neither rash, nor precocious. This is a Phase I/II trial, not some mad scientist shooting up random cells into rubes in the woods. I'd recommend that anyone reading this exchange read the linked journal and not put an excessive amount of faith into people talking authoritatively and with big words :)

Re:my mom has macular degeneration (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 2 years ago | (#38808921)

That does help, but the title is misleading. Embrionic stemcells are usually implied to be the pluripotent kind.

This is an interesting development, as it means the researchers were successful in reliably creating retinal epithelial cells from such a culture.

This increases my excitement about the trial. I still don't see why they elected to use an embryonic line instead of a host derived ips line.

A prior poster commented that it was due to the wording of their trial's funding, which is why I ask. Why was the funding grant for the trial tied exclusively to embryonic cell cultures?

The actual merit of the trial is that cultured retinal epithelial cells appear safe, and effective.

The source of the tissue shouldn't matter a whole lot after being differentiated, other than the ethical concerns. Given the scarcity of embryonic lines for research into pluripotency, wouldn't it have made more sense to keep them there?

Re:my mom has macular degeneration (1)

turtledawn (149719) | about 2 years ago | (#38810939)

The retinal cells of interest are neurons. Neurons differentiate very early in development - to my knowledge no one has yet developed an IPS that can reliably be made to differentiate into high-quality neurons.

As to scarcity, in order to maintain the totipotentency of the existing lines my understanding is that they _must_ be divided occasionally (early blastocyte stage I think), or they devolve into pluripotent cells. The process generates spares by its very nature.

Re:my mom has macular degeneration (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 2 years ago | (#38811917)

Not purpetually. Normal (non cancerous) cell lines can only be divided 50 times before reaching senecense.

An aging stemcell line can only be reprimed that way for so long before the cells just sit in the dish and do nothing.

Re:my mom has macular degeneration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38850243)

Your mother and your kind in general, is the cancer of this world. Hopefully some day we will be rid of your kind, and progress and advancement will again be a part of our world.

"A biotechnology company said... (2)

tunapez (1161697) | about 2 years ago | (#38808413)

It's more profitable to treat the ailment than to cure it? I sure hope they don't pull a 'Geron'. [businessweek.com] Give them a few more months to solidify their findings ...

Re:"A biotechnology company said... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813459)

"It's more profitable to treat the ailment than to cure it?"
except that's false in most cases, and i other case would rely on the current CEO and board being so kind, that let either their competitors discover it, or let the next generation of board member/CEO reap the benefits.

Geron is about running out of money, nothing more.

If there therapy worked, the share price would have gone through the roof as stock holders abandon there current companies to grab part of the cure.
The CEO would have gotten a big phat ass bonus, the scientist would be looking at the highest accolades, and they would own the tech.

Can You Imagine? (1)

MoldySpore (1280634) | about 2 years ago | (#38808675)

I can only imagine what we could be doing in the field of medicine if stem cell research had its doors blown wide open with no restrictions. If we can make blind people see again under the current provisions and laws regarding stem cell research, one can only imagine the possibilities if they were allowed unrestricted federal funding. All of the research using new lines of stem cells is being funded privately, as current laws don't allow for federal funding of research having to do with new lines of embryonic stem cells.

Re:Can You Imagine? (4, Interesting)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 2 years ago | (#38809321)

Many of the ethical concerns over embryonic cells would be ended if the collection method was nondestructive.

The problem was hamfisted legislation that treats embryonic blast collection as being equal to murdering babies.

There are single cell extraction techniques which allow cells to be nondestructively collected. This process is used in screening for ivf, prior to embryo selection. (This is how they pick only safe embryos, and not ones likely to produce children with developmental disorders.)

I would rather see legislation prohibiting destructive collection, than against any collection at all.

The issue here, is that we have cells previously collected using the destructive methods prior to the moratorium sitting in freezers, when those tissues could be used for fundamental research.

It is my understanding that demand for these lines is high, as many cultures were co-cultured with mouse tissue for purposes of expediency. This limits the number of "purely human" cultures that are suitale for medical research to a much smaller subset of the already limited cell lines available. (Note, the mouse contaminated lines are not genetically blended. They are just heterogenous.)

What I would personally like to see is an end to the moratorium on federal funding for embryonic cells, with the provision that all NEW lines be derived nondestructively.

Doing that would radically reduce the ethical concerns surrounding their use.

Our ability to create, use, and evaluate adult stemcells is directly tied to the fundamental research done with embryonic ones.

However, I don't support your position on unfettered research. To me that opens far too big of a pandora's box into the realm of public health. Oversight and good proceedure are vital to good research.

Re:Can You Imagine? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38813477)

All that is because religious people aren't content to keeping to themselves, they want to force everyone else to their antiquated black and white views.
See: Big Bang, evolution, AGW.

Seem safe, so far... (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about 2 years ago | (#38809607)

That's what my doctor told me three weeks ago before I started growing a FETUS IN MY E Y E ! ! !

Morality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38810367)

If someone is too "moral" to accept the treatment - fine - they don't have to have it, and they can suffer accordingly. As long as they don't try keeping anyone else from getting the treatment, that's fine.

I'm looking forward to teeth (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38815647)

I'd like to see the day when missing, extracted, or damaged teeth are routinely regrown instead of replaced with titanium and ceramic.
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