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Stem Cells Curing Burn-Induced Blindness

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the i-can-see-clearly-now dept.

Medicine 54

mcgrew writes "The AP (via Yahoo) is reporting that Italian researchers can now cure blindness caused by chemical burns using the patient's own stem cells. 'The treatment worked completely in 82 of 107 eyes and partially in 14 others, with benefits lasting up to a decade so far. One man whose eyes were severely damaged more than 60 years ago now has near-normal vision.' Previously, this kind of injury needed either a corneal transplant or stem cells from someone else, both of which are plagued by problems with tissue rejection. Unfortunately, this only works for damaged corneas — so far."

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Isn't this what stem cells are there for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695124)

Isn't the bloodstream supposed to distribute stem cells and do repairs like this itself?

Re:Isn't this what stem cells are there for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695534)

If you have blood in your cornea, you have deeper issues to worry about.

Re:Isn't this what stem cells are there for? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695594)

I'm not a subject-matter expert; but, based on how badly a lot of injuries tend to heal in mature humans(I managed to grow a couple of arms and 10 fingers once, why not again if I happen to lose one or two?), I can only assume that evolutionary pressures imposed by some combination of the risk of cancer and the fact that, until the invention of modern medical care and life support systems, a quick-and-dirty healing job that turns into a ghastly mass of scar tissue is safer than a perfect regrowth that you won't live long enough to finish...

Re:Isn't this what stem cells are there for? (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696046)

Not everything in nature has to have a reason. Some (most?) things are what they are simply because it didn't prevent reproduction.

Perhaps growing limbs is possible and even beneficial, but we never evolved it because we just kept on fucking even without limbs.

Re:Isn't this what stem cells are there for? (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 4 years ago | (#32698470)

I don't think that most higher organisms survive 'limb tearing off' events often enough for it to have a significant impact on evolution. Even having a finger torn off 20 thousand years ago would likely have killed you due to infection, and if it didn't, being short one finger wasn't going to be a huge problem for most things. Having an arm or leg torn off would almost certainly have killed you, on that basis that you'd lose a lot of blood, infection would kill you if the blood loss didn't, whatever tore your arm or leg off probably isn't going to just leave it at that, and nobody else is going to want to wait around while your arm or leg grew back. It takes about 15-20 years to grow an adult sized leg... you could probably do it much faster if you were growing just a leg but even then you are probably talking a few years which is a significant chunk out your useful lifespan, and the end result is a person with a known history of losing limbs in battle/hunting.

Evolution pretty much results in an outcome that is only as good as it needs to be to get the job done.

Re:Isn't this what stem cells are there for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32702200)

Agree. Nature is the lowest (and only) bidder for the job.

Re:Isn't this what stem cells are there for? (4, Informative)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#32698220)

Isn't the bloodstream supposed to distribute stem cells and do repairs like this itself?

No. Stem cells in an adult appear to all be fate restricted to some degree. Embryonic stem cells are often called "pluripotent" meaning they can turn into any type of cell you need. Pluripotent stem cells disappear long before you're born, early on they start to specialize into three broad types of cells, and they get more and more specialized from then on, most appear to eventually get to the point where they'll make just one or two types of cells and that's it. Adult stem cell populations seem to be fate restricted as well. Stem cells in the later embryo and after birth are usually found in discrete niches tightly controlled, not just circulating. Some adult tissues appear to lack stem cells entirely too, I guess the cornea is one of those tissues.

One of the best characterized stem cell systems is in the intestines, you need to refresh your intestines fairly rapidly, its a tough environment for the cells making up your gut and they just don't last very long, getting sloughed every few days if I remember correctly. Those cells spring up from transient amplifying cells which divide very fast to make large numbers of intestine cells, but the transient amplifying cells come from stem cells located somewhere in the wall of the intestine. Last I heard, there was some controversy over which cells of the intestinal crypt were the actual stem cells, but they do appear to be in the walls of the intestine itself, not the bloodstream.

Furthermore, it appears that the intestinal stem cells only produce the lining of the intestine, they don't make the cornea, blood, nerves, bones, skin, etc. Maybe you could find a way to coax them into doing that, but as far as I know, that hasn't been shown yet.

Bottom line though, the stem cells that make up the intestine are in the intestine and make up only intestine. It appears most adult stem cells are similar: they make one type of cell from specific locations. Corneas do not appear to have a natural stem cell reservoir, so if you damage them you appear to be SOL as far as nature goes (I guess? Not really too familiar with the eye). In the present study, it looks like the researchers took stem cells from right around the cornea, not the bloodstream. Maybe cells from around the cornea naturally have the ability to differentiate into cornea type cells, I'd have to do some background reading.

But in general, no, there are not pluripotent stem cells floating around in your bloodstream. In cases where adult mice have had pluripotent stem cells injected into their bloodstream, they develop horrible tumors at those sites which are a complex mix of several different types of cells, a teratoma. I think the interpretation there is that stem cells generally need to be under tight control, which can't happen in the blood stream, or else you'll get them doing things you don't want them to do.

Too late! (4, Funny)

jwriney (16598) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695198)

Just think - if this had existed a few years ago, they wouldn't have needed to make that godawful Daredevil movie.

--riney

Re:Too late! (3, Funny)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695498)

Just think - if this had existed a few years ago, they wouldn't have needed to make that godawful Daredevil movie.

--riney

I see what you did there.

Re:Too late! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695668)

Just think - if this had existed a few years ago, they wouldn't have needed to make that godawful Daredevil movie.

--riney

I see what you did there.

Then clearly TFA isn't for you.

Re:Too late! (1)

rayk_sland (791740) | more than 4 years ago | (#32697700)

and just think, now Neo can be treated!!!

Sweet (3, Funny)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695226)

I'll be the first to say thats pretty freakin awesome. PS don't go to Taiwan and get stem cells injected into your eyes.

Re:Sweet (1)

Gerafix (1028986) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695476)

You shouldn't go to Taiwan to get injected with anything really.

Re:Sweet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32697008)

Opium.

Re:Sweet (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696104)

It is awesome, but I'm really waiting until they can cure masturbation-induced blindness.

Re:Sweet (1)

witherstaff (713820) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696594)

I'm waiting for scientists to use stem cells or genetic modification on the hairy palm syndrome so masturbation can be a cure for baldness.

Re:Sweet (1)

LBt1st (709520) | more than 4 years ago | (#32702554)

I'm waiting for one of these breakthroughs to happen in the US. It seems like every few months there's some leap in stem cell research. I always make it a point to look up where it happened. Never in America. It makes me sad to think while were taking over the world in search for oil, everyone else has learned to be civilized and aid each other.

I Hear Stem Cells Are Controversial (5, Funny)

MrTripps (1306469) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695254)

“These are adult stem cells harvested from perfectly healthy adults. Whom I killed for their stem cells!” - Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth

Stem cell extraction (1)

danieltdp (1287734) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695270)

Could anyone elucidate me in the procedure for stem cell extraction? Where do they get those kind of cells on an adult human?

Re:Stem cell extraction (2, Insightful)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695380)

From TFA: "Nor would it work in people who are completely blind in both eyes, because doctors need at least some healthy tissue that they can transplant." So it comes from the other, healthy eye.

And I was hoping that it would come from wanking: "It both causes blindness, and cures it too!"

Re:Stem cell extraction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696212)

If you're getting it in the eye, you're either doing it wrong, or very, very right.

Re:Stem cell extraction (3, Informative)

stoanhart (876182) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695556)

RTFA?

The took them from the rim of the cornea of the unaffected eye, or from unaffected portions if both eyes were damaged.

Re:Stem cell extraction (1)

danieltdp (1287734) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695764)

Allright, I will try to be more precise this time: from TFA

Adult stem cells, which are found around the body, are different from embryonic stem cells, which come from human embryos and have stirred ethical concerns because removing the cells requires destroying the embryos.

how in hell there are stem cells around on an adult human? I didn't know that there are stem cells on adults. Isn't it true that people freeze umbilical cords in order to guarantee stem cells for the future?

Re:Stem cell extraction (1)

danieltdp (1287734) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696282)

Answering my own questions...: Emphasys mine

The two broad types of mammalian stem cells are: embryonic stem cells that are isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts, and adult stem cells that are found in adult tissues. In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all of the specialized embryonic tissues. In adult organisms, stem cells and progenitor cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing specialized cells, but also maintain the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin, or intestinal tissues.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell

Re:Stem cell extraction (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695782)

The first rule of stem cell extraction is we don't talk about stem cell extraction...

Re:Stem cell extraction (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696720)

Could anyone elucidate me in the procedure for stem cell extraction? Where do they get those kind of cells on an adult human?

I think you mean "Could anyone elucidate the procedure" or "Could anyone educate me on the procedure". When elucidate [reference.com] is used with an object, that object is the thing being explained, not the person to whom it is being explained. Oh. And by the way, I don't know anything about stem cells.

It doesn't always work... (3, Informative)

Garble Snarky (715674) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695330)

I believe it is well documented that some humans lose almost all ability to process vision information, if they go long enough without it. Surely this depends on the age at which vision is lost, and the duration of the blindness, but the problem of restoring vision processing, for those who have lost it, is significantly harder to solve.

Re:It doesn't always work... (1, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696236)

The brain is probably the most incredible organ in the body, and yes, like your muscles if you don't use it it will atrophe, but it is amazingly resiliant so long as there's no actual damage to it.

After ten years of my eyes' focusing muscles not being used (in your forties the lens hardens and you need reading glasses) it only took a few months after getting my implant for the focusing muscles to work again. And the brain is the same way; you would have to learn to see again, but you would learn.

Re:It doesn't always work... (2, Interesting)

Garble Snarky (715674) | more than 4 years ago | (#32698228)

http://web.archive.org/web/20060831124229/http://www.newyorker.com/archive/content/articles/060619fr_archive01 [archive.org]

This article is long but fascinating - long story short, guy loses his vision as a young child (possibly the key point), regains it 45 years later, struggles very much to deal with sight for several years, but misses his past, sight-less life. He has a very hard time correlating objects' feel with their appearance, he has a hard time appreciating perspective, he can only navigate around his own house by using key landmarks and following preset paths, etc. Eventually he mostly gives up on being able to perceive the world visually. His state of mind plays a huge role in the situation, and visiting his childhood home helps significantly.

Maybe this is just anecdotal and I'm certainly no expert. But before reading this, my thoughts would have been exactly what you wrote, and that is not entirely accurate.

Re:It doesn't always work... (1)

AussieNeil (1757216) | more than 4 years ago | (#32706336)

Functional MRI scanning has shown that areas of the brain normally involved in vision processing has been reallocated in such individuals.

Coincidentally, I've just finished reading a great book on this very subject: "Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See", by Robert Kurdson. He describes Mike May's frustrations with not being able to read or process shadows to determine 3D information after having his sight restored, decades after losing it due to corneal scarring from chemical burns when he was 3 years old. Mike's restored vision - due to stem cell and corneal transplants, gave him better than average vision, but Mike found it extremely hard work to read or extract depth information from shadows. His ability to detect motion was excellent however. Curiously, Mike isn't fooled by optical illusions that take us in.

Unfortunately, depression has been found to be extremely common in people that have had their sight restored after a long period without it - most likely due to the frustrations of not being able to fully use their restored vision.

Mike needed donor stem cells and cornea, whereas this improved technique uses the patients', thus avoiding the risks associated with taking anti-rejection medication for life. Now if only we can find a way to restore brain function! That would be an incredible breakthrough helping far more people than those assisted by this new technique and would hopefully help with the depression risk. There are some interesting references in the above book, which include the article by Oliver Sacks referenced above.

Uh oh! (0, Flamebait)

Noodles (39504) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695418)

Jesus is not going to be happy.

Re:Uh oh! (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695832)

Jesus is not going to be happy.

Why would you think that? Or are you one of those idiots who don't know that Christians do not oppose the use of adult stem cells only embryonic stem cells that are harvested by killing the embryo?

Re:Uh oh! (2, Insightful)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695926)

I think it is more his prior art in the ability to restore blindness.

Re:Uh oh! (1)

city (1189205) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696382)

He's just sayin. If David Copperfield found out you knew how to make a 747 disappear he'd be pissed.

Re:Uh oh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696848)

As a Christian myself, I hope you see the irony in defending Christianity with hostility.

I'm pretty sure when Jesus said to "love your enemies", that didn't include calling them idiots.

Re:Uh oh! (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696066)

Why not? After all, his dad supplied the stem cells and the surgeons.

Why arent we funding this?? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695490)

To quote Peter Griffin - Why arent we funding this?? .. Well maybe we are now. But so much time has been lost contemplating the obvious. Its ok to kill and eat other animals just for dinner but take a few cells from a dead human faetus and your commiting a horrible, evil crime? Anywho.. good stuff!

Re:Why arent we funding this?? (3, Informative)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695866)

Um, this research was eligible for federal funding under President Bush and I assume it is still eligible for federal funding under Obama. The thing you seem to not have noticed is that this procedure works with adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells.

laser damage? (1)

GuldKalle (1065310) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695504)

will this help me if I stared into the laser with remaining eye?

Re:laser damage? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695888)

No, the laser won't hurt your cornea (which is what this fixes) or lens, but it will burn you retina, and so far thay can't fix that (but I can see it happening not too long from now). You might be interested in this journal [slashdot.org] which actually has lasers in an eye, as well as a liquid nitrogen cooled cryotheraputic probe to the eye, as well as needles in the eye.

There are worse things than lasers. Like supercooled metal probes, needles, and nitrogen bubbles.

PLEASE.... (4, Informative)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695608)

Please don't let this be another one of those /. discussions where people conflate generic) stem cell therapy with embryonic stem cell therapy.

Many Christian's oppose the latter, and almost none is against the former.

I'm not even a Christian and I'm *&*#$# tired of the BS that comes from confusing the two positions. Seeing people attack straw men is annoying after the millionth time.

Re:PLEASE.... (2, Insightful)

city (1189205) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696690)

Stem cells are being shown to work in the few areas scientists are funded to study them. I dont think its a straw man argument to say that the religious zealots are stopping people with other conditions from being helped. If you want to split the generic/embryonic hairs here, that is your problem.

Re:PLEASE.... (2, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#32698266)

Many Christian's oppose the latter, and almost none is against the former.

I'm not even a Christian and I'm *&*#$# tired of the BS that comes from confusing the two positions. Seeing people attack straw men is annoying after the millionth time.

If you hate straw men, this is really the wrong place for you, it's kind of all we do here, be it on MS, stem cells, or car metaphors. You'll probably also want to avoid the "wizard of oz fanclub page."

Re:PLEASE.... (0, Offtopic)

mattack2 (1165421) | more than 4 years ago | (#32699300)

Many Christian's oppose the latter

Please don't let this be another one of those /. discussions where people don't know how to use an apostrophe properly.

Re:PLEASE.... (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#32700034)

Seeing people attack straw men is annoying after the millionth time.

Can we please just stick to arguing the unprovable question about whether all these breakthroughs with coerced non-embryonic stem cells would have happened if Bush hadn't enacted the Federal funding ban?

(though to be fair, those who argued that all useful stem cell research would go overseas were clearly wrong)

Haha (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32695924)

The comments on the article are hilarious. They start getting good at about 4 pages back.

extended warranty..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32696210)

step 1 sell lasers to kids
step 2 kids burn out eye
step 3 create extended warranty program using stem cells
step 4 profit!

Maybe I need glasses? (1)

Eggbloke (1698408) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696516)

Did anyone else read 'Bum' instead of 'Burn' in the headline?

Other applications (1)

Mark of THE CITY (97325) | more than 4 years ago | (#32696760)

Can this be used to restore corneas affected by cataracts?

Finally A Cure! (4, Funny)

FrankDrebin (238464) | more than 4 years ago | (#32697328)

Finally a cure for those of us who applied industrial strength eye bleach after clicking on goatse in 1999.

Two questions (2, Informative)

Something Witty Here (906670) | more than 4 years ago | (#32698032)

Is anyone working on treatments (stem cells, carbon nanotubes,
magic fairy dust, whatever...) for repairing a wrinkled retina?
(It detached, and the fine surgeon didn't get it reattached smoothly,
so that eye is like trying to look through textured privacy glass.)

For the optical wizards out there, what would it take to make
eyeglasses that can correct extreme myopia without changing
the magnification? Would a multiple element lens be able to
do this?

For those of you with extreme myopia, you are at higher risk for
retinal detachment. Talk with your eye doctor about getting
your retina "spot welded" with a laser to prevent this.
You do NOT want your retina to detach!!!

YOiU FAIL IT (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32698340)

Re:YOiU FAIL IT (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#32699132)

I don't think this treatment will work on that kind of eye damage.

Misread Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32702704)

I misread the summary, "previously, this type of injury required either a cornmeal transplant..."

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