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With Some Structure, Stem Cells Might Still Stop Vision Loss

With Some Structure, Stem Cells Might Still Stop Vision Loss 86

Getting older is supposed to give you perspective. But for one out of five people over the age of 65, it does the opposite. Macular degeneration is a common progressive eye condition, one that thins and breaks down a tissue behind the center of the retina. Without that tissue, the light-sensing cells it supports atrophy and die, making it impossible to get a clear picture of anything straight ahead of you—like, say, the faces of your loved ones or anything past your steering wheel. Treatments can slow the loss of vision, but there’s no way to reverse it.

Which is why scientists have long been excited about the prospect of using stem cells to restore that tissue, and with it the sharp central vision necessary for driving, reading, and navigating the world. Clinical trials in the last few years have shown that injecting stem cell-derived retinal pigment cells into the eye can be done safely. But so far they haven’t been that effective, because the support cells often don’t wind up in the right place. They need a little help, a little structure.

And for the first time, that’s exactly what a group of scientists from the University of Southern California are giving them. By building a synthetic scaffold, the team of bioengineers could get retinal pigment cells derived from embryonic stem cells into a single, fixed layer that mimics the natural tissue. And when ophthalmologist Amir Kashani and Mark Humayun surgically cemented the implant beneath the retinas of four patients, the new cells didn’t just stay put—they began activating photoreceptors that had gone dormant in the damaged tissue above.

The researchers published initial results from this first human clinical trial Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The implant successfully stopped further vision loss in all four patients in follow-ups that ranged from four months to a year. The youngest patient, a 69-year-old woman, actually got some vision back. She went from only being able to see seven letters on an eyesight test—you know, the one where the letters of the alphabet get smaller and smaller each row you go down—to being able to see 24 just four months post-surgery.

Of course, with a sample size this small it’s impossible to say whether the improvement is statistically (or clinically) significant. The study will continue enrolling until it gets 20 patients, and will follow them for five years. “We certainly need more subjects to be able to say how it works and when it works, and even why it works,” says Kashani. “But the fact we’re getting any improvement in any of these patients who have such advanced diagnoses is a pretty good sign of its potential.”

To pass regulatory muster, treatments like this one—which would be manufactured as an off-the-shelf implant—will require much bigger, longer, more prospective studies to prove their effectiveness. As more of them inch closer to commercialization, the Food and Drug Administration has begun cracking down on the more than 600 clinics across the US that hawk stem cells harvested from the blood and fat of patients, claiming they can treat everything from arthritis to autism. In 2015, doctors at one such clinic in Florida charged three elderly women with macular degeneration $5,000 each to inject these kinds of stem cells into their eyes. All three went blind.

Last August the FDA sent a warning letter to the clinic, which has since ceased administering the treatment for age-related vision loss. “Without commitment to the principles of adequate evidence generation that have led to so much medical progress, we may never see stem cell therapy reach its full potential,” wrote former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, in an editorial that accompanied a case study of one of the Florida women in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It’s a concern that researchers like Kashani share. The implants he’s studying are the result of a decade of lab work at public research institutions and private companies in southern California. And he fears that in that decade, stem cell treatments have been tarnished by the doctors that rushed ahead to turn a quick profit. “It makes it more difficult when you lose a lot of public trust, frankly,” says Kashani. “At the end of the day you can’t develop these therapies without patient involvement.” A bonafide stem cell cure for macular degeneration is going to take more than a little perspective. It’s going to take patience, too.

Stem Cell Hopes

  • Stem cells have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases, but therapies administered by stem cell clinics across the US are not FDA-approved.
  • Such experimental regenerative medicines got a big boost from the 21st Century Cures Act.
  • And the results can be truly astonishing: In one case, scientists used genetically corrected stem cells to grow a new skin for a boy with a rare genetic disorder.

Read More On This At Science Latest


Science & Technology

The goal of human civilization is to create AI and disappear?

The goal of human civilization is to create AI and disappear? 95

Various sources often talk about civilizations that lived long before us. They all developed, prospered for a while, and then disappeared in an incomprehensible way. 

What is the reason for their decline, we probably will not know. All we can do is admire the remains of stone buildings, over which time has almost no power.

While looking for an answer, we somehow accidentally stumbled upon an interesting saying about the life of Japanese samurai: “A samurai has no goal, but a path.” In the end, the “path of the samurai” ended in what is known – death. The path of any civilization ended in the same way.

If you look at the issue through the prism of a samurai saying, then there is no point in looking for why and how civilization ended its existence. Probably, the process itself and its result are important here. But to whom is it important and what result does it expect?

Mysterious director

Apparently, behind the curtains of this “ancient theater” there is a mysterious “director” who periodically makes necessary adjustments to the history of civilization.

To figure out what’s what, you need to look at current trends in science. Where does a person strive with such an irresistible desire to “play God.” This attracts him and at the same time frightens him, but in no way turns him away from the intended path. Most likely, artificial intelligence (AI) is the purpose of our civilization’s existence.

About 50 years ago it would have seemed nonsense, but to someone, perhaps even now. However, if you trace the last 100 years of the life of our civilization, you get the feeling that most of the discoveries were given to mankind at the same time. A powerful leap has taken place in a hundred years. Why did it happen?

At the beginning of the last century, scientists recognized the existence of fields that have memory and the ability to store and transmit information. It is very likely that such or a similar field can be around the Earth and, more interesting, possess intelligence. Isn’t this the same “Director” hiding behind the screen of the “ancient theater”?

If this is so, then at a certain moment the “Director” gives the selected scientist “access” to certain knowledge (perhaps even in a dream, like Mendeleev), and another scientific breakthrough occurs in the world. Step by step, discovery after discovery, humanity is steadily moving towards the creation of AI. The trend is already well visible.

The goal of human civilization is to create AI and disappear? 96

AI is probably the next “Babylon”, which will combine all the knowledge, culture and accumulated experience of civilization. In the future, the neural network will enter into a connection with the general information field and leave humanity without knowledge, technology, and even a spoken language. This will be the next decline of civilization. And the “Director” will receive another array of new data (experience) in order to start creating a new civilization.

If someone believes that past civilizations ended in large-scale conflicts, then most likely this is already the consequences of “turning off” AI.

Co-founder of Skype talked about the threat of AI to humanity

One of the creators of the Skype internet call service, Jaan Ta

The goal of human civilization is to create AI and disappear? 97
© still from the movie “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

llinn, said that the development of artificial intelligence (AI) threatens humanity. According to him, humans face three key threats, but it is AI that should be feared most of all, the expert said. 

Tallinn explained that at the moment, no one can predict what development AI will achieve in the next decades. In addition, the fact that scientists are creating artificial intelligence that can form a new AI without human intervention is also a cause for concern.

In addition, as the co-founder of the popular video calling service noted, the development of synthetic biology also causes concern. According to him, this direction in science allows the creation of artificial DNA sequences and biological systems that may not exist in nature.

Tallinn also drew attention to the fact that he fears we are entering an era of “unknown unknowns”, things that people are not even able to imagine right now.

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Science & Technology

Volkswagen robot will autonomously charge cars: a working prototype presented

Volkswagen robot will autonomously charge cars: a working prototype presented 98
Copyright: © VW

The renowned German car manufacturer announced a new development. This time, engineers have created a unique robot capable of autonomously charging electric vehicles. 

For more than a year, specialists have been developing this project, but only now the concern was ready to demonstrate the first working prototype. The robot is ready to charge electric vehicles and has shown the high efficiency of this process.

It is called the Mobile Charging Robot, and experts have already compared it to the R2-D2 droid from Star Wars, including squeaks and clangs. Indeed, there is a similarity. Before implementing this idea, the engineers decided that robots should be allowed to charge cars parked in large residential complexes.

This will save their owners from leaving in order to find a gas station. Another advantage is that large parking lots and garages do not have to contain several expensive charging points for electric cars. The car company said in a press release that the robot works exclusively autonomously.

It independently controls and interacts with the vehicle being charged. It opens the cover of the charging socket and independently connects the power plug, then disconnects it. The robot looks like a trailer, which is a mobile energy storage.

It is capable of charging multiple electric vehicles at the same time. Despite the fact that the manufacturer confidently praises its concept, experts saw inefficiency in the fact that first it is necessary to charge the robot’s battery, which is then used to recharge electric cars.

Volkswagen Group Components CEO Thomas Schmall noted that creating an efficient charging infrastructure for the cars of the future is an important step in the company’s development.

Its engineers focus on finding solutions to avoid costly do-it-yourself measures. The mobile robot is only part of the concept that will continue to be developed.

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Science & Technology

This video will forever change the way you think about time

This video will forever change the way you think about time 99

Business Insider, one of the world’s leading news portals, made a three-minute video that depicted the Earth’s timeline as a journey from Los Angeles to New York.

So, the beginning of the journey is 4.54 billion years ago, when the Earth was formed from the accumulation of gases and stardust. After some time, a significant event occurs – a giant space body crashes into the still not cooled Earth, as a result of which the breakaway part becomes its satellite – the Moon.

Further, the route runs through the mountains of Arizona, formed about 3.95 billion years ago. A few more kilometers to the east and we are at the 3.8 billion year mark. This is where the first evidence of life in the form of replicating molecules appears.

The next “stop” Kansas – 2.7 billion years ago. Cyanobacteria that produce oxygen appeared on Earth. It took the next 200 million years for the atmosphere of our planet to accumulate sufficient reserves of this most important gas.

Halfway through, we reach Pennsylvania. We are separated from it “only” by 660 million years. Life is developing rapidly: the Earth is covered with vegetation, amphibians are evolving. Unusual time travel is coming to an end – to the point “Now”. By the time the dinosaurs become extinct, we finally reach the outskirts of New York.

And where is the most important thing – people? To find out, you need to carve out three minutes and watch the entire video.

Source: Business Insider

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