Researchers at the Jules Stein Eye Institute (JSEI) have begun two clinical trials to determine the safety of stem cell therapy and patients’ ability to tolerate it for the treatment of two common, currently untreatable degenerative eye diseases. This FDA-approved study is only the second in the United States to use human embryonic-derived stem cells in patients and the first to address eye diseases.

Twelve patients with the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD) will be enrolled for one trial, and 12 with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy will be signed up for the other. While these patients still have some vision, all are legally blind. Currently, early participants are being screened by a battery of tests to ensure they don’t have other conditions, including cancer.

"We have great hopes for this," said Mondino, who added that no one can predict what will happen because this has never been tried before. "The Clinical Research Center has the infrastructure to support such a trial to optimize the possibility of success. We have the expertise of Dr. Schwartz and his team in the retinal division. We have the cells from ACT. I think we have the right combination here to ensure the best possible outcome."

Schwartz also applauded Dr. Owen Witte, head of UCLA’s regenerative medicine group, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research and the President's Chair of Developmental Immunology, and Dr. Donald Kohn, who runs UCLA’s GMP (good manufacturing practices) laboratory, for their assistance.