Human Exceptionalism

Or Animal Research and Adult Stem Cells

Experiments on zebra fish have produced a promising adult stem cell technique that could restore vision to the sightless. From the story:

British researchers said on Wednesday they had successfully grown in the laboratory a type of adult stem cell found in the eyes of both fish and mammals that develops into neurons in the retina. In future, these cells could be injected into the eye as a treatment for diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetes-related blindness, according to Astrid Limb of University College London’s (UCL) Institute of Ophthalmology.

Damage to the retina — the part of the eye that sends messages to the brain — is responsible for most cases of sight loss. “Our findings have enormous potential,” Limb said. “It could help in all diseases where the neurons are damaged, which is basically nearly every disease of the eye.”…

The cells have already been tested in rats with diseased retinas, where they successfully migrated into the retina and took on the characteristics of the surrounding neurons. Now the team is working on the same approach in humans. “We very much hope that we could do autologous transplants within five years,” Limb told Reuters.

It is important to keep in mind that a treatment isn’t a treatment until it reaches the clinics. But this is very hopeful news, demonstrating both the power of adult stem cells and the necessity of animal research.