This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was given to two scientists for their work in stem cells and cloning, and could have wide ramifications for researchers working on restoring vision to blind patients.
Dr John Gurdon was awarded the prize for being the first person to clone an animal in 1962 and Dr Shinya Yamanaka for his work in 2006 determining how the cells Dr Gurdon used reverted back to their stem cell phase.
Dr Yamanaka’s research shows that any adult cell can be “reset” and turned back into its stem cell form. The New York Times wrote that “stem cells generated by this method, known as induced pluripotent cells, or iPS cells, could then be made to mature into any type of adult cell in the body, a finding with obvious potential for medical benefits.”
Some researchers, for example, are using stem cells from patients with diseases to examine how a disease progresses. If you can watch a retinal cell degenerate, for example, you can develop a better understanding of how LCA progresses and hopefully a better understanding of how to stop it.
Of course, other researchers are using stem cells to try to cure diseases of the eye. In a recent publication of Drug Discovery Today: Therapeutic Strategies, researchers look at using both embryonic stem cells and Dr Yamanaka’s induced pluripotent stem cells to fight age-related macular degeneration and other retinal degenerative diseases. This therapy is still in the beginning stages (and the researchers point out that “some issues may limit the use of stem cells in clinical practice”), but it is still very promising.
Read more about the Nobel Prize and Dr Yamanaka’s work with stem cells.