Louisville close to clinical trials of stem cell treatment for ma - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Louisville close to clinical trials of stem cell treatment for macular degeneration

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By Lori Lyle - bio | email
Posted By Mike Dever - email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A UofL researcher is leading the way in a potential cure for macular degeneration. Dr. Henry Kaplan, who routinely treats patients for the disease, says even today 90% of people with age-related macular degeneration really don't have an effective treatment. So news that researchers at UofL may be close to finding a cure with the help of the patient's own stem cells is creating a lot of excitement. Although studies in humans aren't starting just yet, patients may not have long to wait.

"Anything is scary, if you think about it too much," said Ann Gardner. That's why, at 87 years old, she tries not to consider what it would be like to living the last of her golden years without sight. 

Macular Degeneration has already robbed Ann of most of the vision in her right eye and there are signs of the disease in her left eye too. She knows her doctor, UofL's Henry Kaplan, is doing a lot of research on finding better treatments and even a cure, but she isn't convinced it could happen in her lifetime.

But during her most recent check-up at the Lion's Eye Center, Dr. Kaplan assured Ann it's possible.

The proof is published in this month's Journal of the American Medical Association. The article details Dr. Kaplan's research on regenerative stem cell therapy.

"We in fact were able to get these cells to come to the damaged area of the eye and to replace in the pigment epithelial cells of the retina which were damaged in these mice," Kaplan said. That's the area of the eye that gets damaged by the disease.

Dr. Kaplan's team is collaborating with Dr. Suzanne Ildstad, also at UofL.

Ildstad's Institute of Cellular Therapeutics is focusing on bone marrow stem cells to repair tissue and reverse disease for numerous health conditions. 

In the just published study on macular degeneration, the protocol used growth factors to mobilize the stem cells from the bone marrow. It's an extremely patient-friendly approach, but not the only one being tested.

Ildstad has also discovered a facilitating cell in bone marrow and though it requires cell removal, sorting and then injecting back into the patient, she says those animal studies are even more impressive. "If we gave facilitating cells plus stem cells, we had a much higher migration of the stem cells to the damaged macular degeneration tissue."

Dr. Kaplan isn't ruling out any approach to stem cell therapy, but says the growth factor protocol may be the easiest and quickest way to get it to patients. One of the two growth factors used is already FDA approved. 

Dr. Ildstad agrees it's a great place to start. "I think it has tremendous potential for humans and the only way to know is to test it and it's a pretty benign therapy."

So far, Ildstad says the growth factor protocol is without significant side effects, and even her facilitating cell is she says "potently tolerant."

Ildstad says there is growing concern in the use of embryonic stem cells. "There's been a real problem with cancer formation. I just reviewed a paper that was using embryonic stem cells in mice to try to regenerate tissue and they had 70% of mice die from teratomas (cancer), and so it's not a trivial challenge."

Basically Ildstad says "it's easier to control adult stem cells and what's happening when using embryonic,  it's been difficult to say okay, don't go further and become a cancer. Really, with cancer, what happens [is] the stem cell gets out of control."

The bone marrow stem cells with growth factor protocol is now being tested in swine. And again, because one of the growth factors is already FDA approved, it could drastically speed the process to human trials.

So now at 87, Ann is re-thinking the potential to cure macular degeneration in her lifetime. "I might volunteer" for the study," she said, to help end the fear of blindness for countless lifetimes.

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