Finding a therapy for macular degeneration

One thing about working at CIRM is that you meet a lot of amazing people living with a lot of disease that are all in need of cures.

One of those people I’ve met is Virginia Knepper-Doyle, who has the most common cause of blindness in older people called macular degeneration. We went to her home near Tiburon, just outside San Francisco, to film her as part of a video on stem cell therapies for macular degeneration. She’s an artist, and as her vision grew worse her paintings became more abstract, and in my opinion more lovely. Judges apparently agree with me because she has been invited to participate in more art shows since she began losing her vision.

Knepper-Doyle is featured in a story in the San Francisco Chronicle this week. Writer Erin Allday summed up progress toward treating macular degeneration, including implants, new drugs, and of course stem cells.

She quotes CIRM science officer Ingrid Caras:

“As our population is aging, the number of people affected is going to grow. And you have people who are otherwise healthy but they can’t read, they can’t drive – that’s a huge burden on society,” said Ingrid Caras, a science officer at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which has pumped about $50 million into funding for stem cell research to treat macular degeneration.

“Macular degeneration is very high on the priority list of diseases that need attention,” Caras said.

We have more information on our website about CIRM projects to develop stem cell-based therapies for macular degeneration (you can see that here). That page also has a list and description of all the awards.

One of our macular degeneration awards is a $15 million disease team that hopes to start clinical trials soon. They’ve found a way of maturing embryonic stem cells into the cells at the back of the eye that degrade in people with macular degeneration. In animals, the researchers can slide sheets of those cells into the back of the eye where they appear to help the animals regain vision. We have a more detailed description of that work, along with a slideshow of Knepper-Doyle’s paintings, on our website.

The company Advanced Cell Technology also has a clinical trial underway testing a different form of stem cell therapy for macular degeneration. Whichever therapy proves most effective—whether it’s the implants Allday describes, new drugs or a stem cell approach—it’s a disease that demands a therapy.

Here’s the video that includes our conversation with Virginia Knepper Doyle


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