A new report published by the New England Journal of Medicine details that three women have become permanently blinded after undergoing stem cell injections into their eyes at a Florida clinic. The three subjects were suffering from macular degeneration, an age-related eye disease that leads to vision impairment, and were under the impression that they were participating in a clinical trial for treatment of the disorder. In reality, these women had undergone the procedure at an unregulated Florida clinic called US Stem Cell, where staffers extracted stem cells from the women’s belly fat via liposuction and then injected them into the eyes.
Stem cell treatments, although buzzy (you’ve heard about them in the context of being able to treat a myriad of disorders and even incorporated into skin care products) are largely unregulated, making it difficult for consumers to differentiate between solid medical research versus marketing hype. While there is plenty of legitimate research being done in the space—some very promising—therapy centers that lack safety standards or sufficient medical knowledge are commonplace.
According to Westchester, NY, oculoplastic surgeon James Gordon, MD, stem cell injections could potentially offer ocular benefits including treatment for corneal disease and optic nerve problems, but isn’t considered the most conventional approach for treating common eye disorders. “Macular degeneration is usually a slowly progressive disorder,” he says. “The disease progress can be slowed down further with intake of antioxidant vitamins, sunglasses and green leafy vegetables, and in more severe cases, by injecting certain medications directly into the eye.”