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Friday, October 01, 2004

You're Blind, Mr. Magoo 

Let's just say that no one will ever accuse the President of farsightedness. From a report by Andy Coghlan in New Scientist (Oct. 2-8 issue; not yet online):
Retinal cells that could save people's sight have been generated for the first times from human embryonic stem cells. Transplanted into eyes, the cells could be used to treat the conmmonest cause of blindness, age-related macular degeneration.

Researchers at the biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology, based in Worcester, Massachusetts, managed to produce retinal pigment epithelial cells. These nourish nearby photoreceptor cells -- the rods and cones in the retina that respond to light. When epithelial cells start to wear out, in conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, the photoreceptors deteriorate too.

Some of ACT's retinal cells spontaneously changed into rods and cones, suggesting it may be possible to replace damaged photoreceptors too . . . .

ACT points out that to make the retinal cells it had to use cell lines that are banned for use in federally funded research in the US. Three years ago President Bush restricted federal researches to using the 70 human embryonic stem cell lines that existed at the time. Only 11 of these are now viable.

When ACT researchers tried to produce the retinal cells using three of the "official" lines, they all failed. "We would not have made this discovery if we had stuck to the lines approved by Bush," says Bob Lanza, head of medical and scientific development at ACT.

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