Doctors see benefits in using stem cells to treat legally blind

Stem Cells used to treat the legally blind

Legal blindness is a term used by the U.S. government to determine whether or not someone is eligible for certain disability benefits, vocational training, rehabilitation, schooling and tax exemption programs. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, this type of blindness is someone who is clinically diagnosed to have “a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, and/or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.” Usually, these people can barely see, but that’s not always the case. Some can’t see at all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 million Americans are legally blind.

“Blindness can be caused by a number of reasons.”

Blindness can be caused by a number of reasons – including cataracts, age, glaucoma and diabetes – and is incurable. In other words, no modern treatment options exist that can reverse legal blindness. Glasses, contact lenses or surgery, such as laser eye surgery, will also not correct the chronic condition.

But for those who want to take a chance and don’t mind spending a few bucks, they could try stem cell treatments. Dr. Jeffrey Weiss, who specializes in restorative medicine, recently treated a Florida woman, Vanna Belton, who had been diagnosed as legally blind. As reported by Medical Daily, a former Harvard professor, he says he’s treated roughly 280 legally blind patients using stem cells and has restored the vision for more than 60 percent of those patients.

To conduct the procedure, Weiss extracted bone marrow from Belton’s hip. With the help of his medical team, Weiss used a machine to separate and collect the stem cells. He then injected the cells into Belton’s eyes. While she is still considered “legally blind,” Belton says her vision has greatly improved.

Some are skeptic, however
“Weiss is not following the usual steps of clinical studies,” Meredith Cohn reported for the Baltimore Sun. “Among other things, he didn’t test his treatment theories first on lab animals or using computer models, or randomize his trials by using either stem cells or placebos in study participants. He didn’t test the procedure for safety on a small group before moving to a larger trial.”

While this might draw skepticism from some, Weiss is completely confident in his methods. He registered his human trials with the U.S. National Institutes of Health and was given oversight from an ethics review panel, the International Cellular Medicine Society based in Nevada.

“We didn’t know how penicillin worked for many years, but it saved many lives in the meantime,” Weiss told the Baltimore Sun. “It is hubris to think that something can’t work until you understand how it does…It is more important what the patient sees, not what I see.”

And for Belton, she seeing a lot more than what she did before her stem cell treatment.