Stem cells grow eye blood vessels

Monday, July 29, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Stem cells taken from bone marrow can grow new blood vessels in the eyes of mice, a development researchers say raises the possibility of treating some diseases that often lead to blindness in humans.

In tests in mice, the stem cells injected into the eye became incorporated into the eye's structure and formed new blood vessels.

If the process turns out to work in humans, the scientists hope to use it to treat eye diseases affecting the blood vessels in the retina. They include diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, two leading causes of blindness.

Dr. Martin Friedlander, who headed the research team at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said it may be possible to use the process to rescue sick blood vessels or, in modified form, inhibit the growth of abnormal vessels in the eye.

Peter A. Dudley, director of the retinal diseases program the National Eye Institute, said it is "extremely interesting" that the team was able to take certain precursor stem cells that can form blood vessels and then target them.

He said it seems reasonable this could lead to human treatments. But he cautioned that the work only involved mice and that many details need to be worked out before moving on to humans.

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