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Stem Cell Research

From the Foundation Fighting Blindness

By Mitsy Palmer
As many of you know, President Bush spoke last night on his decision to allow Federal funding of stem cell research using embryonic stem cell lines that already exist. Many people with retinal degenerative disease may wonder how this decision affects research to find treatments and cures.

While embryonic stem cells may hold great promise in treating many diseases, vision researchers are currently focused on the use of so called adult retinal stem cells, or retinal progenitor cells for use in retinal cell transplantation.

In 2000, Foundation-supported scientists Dr. Derek van der Kooy of the University of Toronto and Dr. Iqbal Ahmad from the University of Nebraska each reported on the discovery of adult stem cells, or progenitor cells, in the eyes of adult rodents. These cells are thought to confer even greater advantage than embryonic stem cells in that they already have some characteristics of retinal cells while retaining their ability to replicate themselves. When removed from the eye and cultured, a single retinal progenitor cell produced 15,000 cells within one week.

Discovery of retinal progenitor cells in the eyes of adult mammals has sparked intense scientific investigation to determine what variety of cell types these cells are capable of manufacturing, and how to biologically coax these cells into making the transition to fully functioning, mature photoreceptor cells. Early studies have made clear that these adult retinal stem cells are already much closer to becoming viable photoreceptor cells than embryonic stem cells.

In December 2000, The Foundation sponsored a meeting to discuss the application of stem cell research to retinal degenerative disease. To learn more about recommendations from this meeting and the application of stem cell research to retinal
degenerative diseases, please visit our Web site at: http://www.blindness.org/html/science/wstemcell.html


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Date last modified August 13, 2001