When you first speak to Rosie Barrero, it is difficult to believe she is blind. Her eyes follow you as you speak—but she is guided by hearing, not sight.
As she puts it, “I cannot go outside the house by myself.”
As a child, Rosie lost night vision, and was called “nearsighted” by a school nurse. Things got slowly worse, until she was seeing the world “like an impressionist painting in fog”—and then, darkness—just before adult Rosie gave birth to twins…
The California stem cell program is challenging several kinds of blindness, including that which afflicts Ms. Barrero, Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), which steals vision from an estimated three million people, world-wide.
RP does its damage by destroying the light-sensing cells (photo-receptors) in the eye. But this devastating disability will not go unchallenged.
At the University of California at Irvine, (UCI) and funded by the California stem cell program, Dr. Henry Klassen and his team are using stem cells to support and potentially restore the damaged/missing photo-receptors. If successful, he says, this may “provide a stepping stone to many otherwise incurable diseases of the brain and spinal cord.”
How is he doing?
“Over the past year, significant progress has been made in advancing our therapy for retinitis pigmentosa. …Eight patients…have been injected at two different dose levels: 0.5 million and 1.0 million cells….Our safety data was reviewed…no safety concerns.”
The first tests were purely for safety purposes, to make sure the treatments did no harm. That occurred exactly as was hoped for, with no one made worse.
But for some, like Kristin Macdonald and Rosie Barrero, the results were different.
Ms. Macdonald recovered light sensitivity and the ability to sense shapes—to the point where she can put on her own makeup! The first person to receive the Klassen stem cell therapy, Ms. Macdonald is a dynamic individual, who rides horses vigorously, and hosts a top-rated web radio show, “Second Vision”./
What was it like to participate in the Klassen clinical trials? Read Ms. Macdonald’s perceptive interview.
And Rosie Barrero?
Despite the minimal amounts of treatment given in the safety study, she has had a measure of vision restored. She can see outlines, pale colors, her own writing—“ and, she adds, almost in disbelief, “I can see the faces of my twins.”
This post originally appeared on HuffPost.
Don C. Reed is Vice President of Public Policy for Americans for Cures, and he is the author of the forthcoming book, CALIFORNIA CURES: How California is Challenging Chronic Disease: How We Are Beginning to Win—and Why We Must Do It Again! You can learn more here.