Injecting adult stem cells into patients’ eyes could be used in future treatments to prevent blindness caused by diabetic retinopathy.
Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine (UVA) assessed that stem cells taken from non-diabetics would be more effective than cells taken from patients’ own bodies.
They hope to prevent the vascular degeneration that results in blindness among patients with diabetic retinopathy using fat-derived stem cells. These are harvested during liposuction procedures.
UVA researcher and ophthalmologist Paul Yates, M.D., PhD, said: “The answer seems to be, probably, taking cells from patients who aren’t diabetic. Because the diabetic stem cells don’t seem to work quite as well. And that’s not terribly surprising, because we already know that this cell type is damaged by diabetes.”
An estimated 100 million people suffer from diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when changes in blood glucose levels lead to the altering of retinal blood vessels.
Currently, existing treatments include laser surgery or regular injections into patients’ eyeballs – this often occurs monthly for the rest of their lives.
The UVA team hope to commence with clinical trials on humans in the next few years and establish a crucial development in treating diabetic retinopathy.
“We now know what to look for when we harvest a patient’s cells, because we know what distinguishes good quality cells from poor quality,” added researcher Shayn M. Peirce, Ph.D., of the UVA Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“There’s huge room for improvement on the standard of care, and the number of patients in this demographic is increasing by the day, dramatically, so the need is only going up.”
Stem cell treatment is also being investigated as an effective treatment for diabetic neuropathy. Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine hope that if mesenchymal stem cells derived from bone marrow (BM-MSCs) can be used in humans, this could be a big breakthrough in finding a curative treatment.

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