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December 2011
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February 2012

Embryonic stem cells appear to restore some vision to legally blind patient

By Rob Stein and David Brown

For the first time, an experimental treatment made from human embryonic stem cells has shown evidence of helping someone, partially restoring sight to two people suffering from slowly progressing forms of blindness.

Although the purpose of the experiment was to test the safety of stem cells injected into the eye, both patients “had measurable improvement in their vision that persisted through the duration of the study,” said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology, the Massachusetts biotech company that sponsored the closely watched experiment.

The operations in July on two Southern California women yielded practical results. One of them no longer needs a large magnifying glass to read and can reportedly thread a needle. The other has begun to go shopping on her own.

Reported online in the Lancet on Monday, the project used the cells under highly favorable conditions not likely to exist with many diseases.

The cells were transplanted into the eye, an organ in which the chance of immune rejection is low. The complex, 10-layer architecture of the retina was intact, so the cells were not asked to perform a heroic act of reconstruction. The researchers were able to monitor progress — and watch for complications — in real time by looking into the eyes.

Lanza cautioned that the findings are preliminary, the improvements could disappear and complications could emerge. Nevertheless, he thinks the two cases will provide useful lessons for the field.

Full story.


UW superheating project aims to explore magnetic fields

Big aluminum sphere will heat gases to 500,000 degrees

By Karen Herzog of the Journal Sentinel

Researchers will be able to simulate the superheated gases that form the sun's magnetic field with a one-of-a-kind sphere that moved Wednesday into a new physics lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The hollow aluminum sphere, built by four Wisconsin companies for $2.5 million, looks like the famous Death Star from "Star Wars" movies. Weighing 11,000 pounds, it was built to superheat gases to 500,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers say it will help them study how magnetic fields are generated in planets and stars, and better understand why the sun occasionally spews out particles that affect the Earth as "space weather," knocking out satellites and even taking down power grids, explained Cary Forest, a UW-Madison physics professor.

Forest is principal investigator for the effort, known as the Madison Plasma Dynamo Experiment.

Full story.

A Shot of Young Stem Cells Made Rapidly Aging Mice Live Longer and Healthier

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 3, 2011 – Mice bred to age too quickly seemed to have sipped from the fountain of youth after scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine injected them with stem cell-like progenitor cells derived from the muscle of young, healthy animals. Instead of becoming infirm and dying early as untreated mice did, animals that got the stem/progenitor cells improved their health and lived two to three times longer than expected, according to findings published in the Jan. 3 edition of Nature Communications.

Full story.