Embryonic or iPS cells, that is the ethical question.
On 7th February this year, an article was published in The Lancet (385; 509, 2015), which reported the treatment outcomes of 18 patients with age-associated macular degeneration, a disease that leads to blindness. Patients were followed up for 22 months. Visual acuity (VA) improved in ten eyes and decreased in one; the untreated eyes did not show any changes in VA.
These studies suggest that the use of embryonic stem cells for this specific disease could be a viable strategy, probably because the small size of the lesion (less than 6 mm) means that large numbers of cells are not required. However, this therapy has not proved effective in another retinal disease, Stargardt’s macular dystrophy.
Embryonic or iPS cells?
These experiments are undoubtedly of clinical interest, but it should not be forgotten that, in order to obtain embryonic stem cells, human embryos must be destroyed, which is unquestionably a serious ethical difficulty.
To that end, a Comment in the Lancet itself (385; 7 February 2015, page 487), in which this topic is discussed, refers to other experiments carried out with iPS cells (adult reprogrammed cells) by a Japanese team (Nature 513; 287-288, 2014), also to treat age-associated macular degeneration. The advantage, from our point of view, is that the use of these cells does not have any ethical drawbacks.
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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.