Stem cells found in bone could be used as a treatment for many kinds of blindness, according to scientists in the United States. The team, at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, found that if they injected particular stem cells into the eyes of mice with a genetic disease causing the deterioration of retinal blood vessels, the retinas were normal and deterioration was prevented.
The team used a particular stem cell called endothelial precursor cells (EPCs) which are found in the mouse bone marrow and are known to encourage the formation of blood vessels during development. A number of diseases of the eye are caused by degeneration of blood vessels or, in the case of age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, a proliferation of vessels in the eye. When injected into the eye, the EPCs migrated to the correct location and incorporated themselves into the normal blood vessels.
The findings, which are reported in Nature Medicine online, caused delight amongst the researchers. 'We were beside ourselves with excitement,' said team leader Martin Friedlander, who described the EPCs as 'magic bullets'. However, Friedlander made it clear that there are still many hurdles to be overcome and applications in humans are still a long way off.