Stem cell research: The hope and the hype

Stem cell treatments entering trial phase

In research labs at the McPherson Eye Research Institute, work is being done to find ways to use stem cells to halt and possibly reverse vision loss caused by blinding diseases.

“I have a tremendous amount of hope,” said Dr. David Gamm, director of the McPherson Eye Research Institute and an ophthalmologist with UW Health. “The technology is very strong, and there is a lot of real potential in what we and other laboratories are doing.”

Before stem cells can be used to treat blinding diseases, more research needs to be done and a clinical trial must be completed. The research team at UW is moving toward a clinical trial.

“You are talking about a science and a field of medicine that didn’t exist two decades ago. So to be able to get as far as we have in this period of time is really remarkable. Now try telling that to someone who is losing vision. That’s a very difficult thing to be able to handle, whether it is yourself or your family member. So it is never going to be fast enough,” Gamm said.

While the research continues into stem cell use, some clinics in the country and around the world have been offering stem cell treatments. Some have made claims the stem cell treatment can cure a wide range of ailments.

“If it claims to treat anything that ails you, and has a long list of, not only can we do your retinal degeneration disease, we can treat your MS, we can treat your Alzheimer’s and so on and so forth, you’ve got to be careful about that,” Gamm said.

In addition to losing money paid to clinics offering treatment claims, patients can risk something even greater.

“There have been cases in a Florida clinic where people have been blinded, not by the cells themselves, but because of infections that came along with the injections they received,” Gamm said.

In Wisconsin, there are more than 100,000 individuals who have severe incurable vision loss.

Gamm recommends patients educate themselves about treatment options and health care institutions.

For more information about stem cell research, you can read a statement written by Gamm here: