Friday, February 26, 2010

Saffron may help reverse Macular Degeneration

From the UK's Daily Mail:
By Fiona Macrae
Last updated at 12:01 AM on 06th February 2010

It is one food colouring that you won't mind giving to the family.
Research has shown that saffron, which gives chicken korma and paella their yellow colour, helps keep vision sharp.
Test findings suggest the spice reverses age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, the most common cause of blindness in old people.
'Patients' vision improved after taking the saffron pill,' said Professor Silvia Bisti, of the University of Sydney, who carried out the research.
'When they were tested with traditional eye charts, a number of them could read one or two lines smaller than before, while others reported they could read newspapers and books again.'
The finding is timely as it is thought the number of AMD sufferers will treble in the next 25 years as the population ages.
It currently affects a quarter of over-60s in the UK and more than half of over-75s.
There are few treatments for the condition - and no cure.
While peripheral vision is not affected, the damage to central vision leads to many sufferers being registered as blind or partially sighted.
Saffron has actually been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a range of ailments, though Professor Bisti is the first to look at its effects on eyesight.

In tests carried out in Italy - where saffron is widely cultivated - pensioners with AMD were given a daily saffron pill for three months followed by a dummy drug for a further three months.
A second group took the supplements in the reverse order. Twenty-five took part in all.
'All patients experienced improvements in their vision while taking the saffron pill,' Professor Bisti said. 'But when they stopped taking it, the effect quickly disappeared.'

She added: 'The chemistry of saffron is quite complex. It is well-known as an anti- oxidant but no one has explored its effects on eyesight before.'
She believes saffron, which is widely used in Spanish and Indian cooking, affects the amount of fat stored by the eye, making vision cells 'tougher and more resilient'.
Saffron is used in traditional medicine for treating conditions including cancerous tumours and depression. The spice also has properties which encourage oxygen flow and prevents cell death.
Researchers are now hoping to discover the ideal dosage. They will also look at saffron's ability to treat genetic eye diseases that can cause life-long blindness.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dr. Mandelman on CBC Maritime Noon Show

Hi all!
Dr. Mandelman was recently on the Maritime Noon Show with Costas Halavrezos answering questions on eyes and vision.


to hear the show.

You just need to click on the play button near the bottom of the screen. Dr. Mandelman's portion begins about 15 min into the session. You can slide the player manually to begin playback at any time.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Eye test could diagnose Alzheimer's Disease

From the UK Telegraph:

A simple eye test carried out by your optician could pick up Alzheimer's Disease years before it develops and lead to early treatment to stop it in its tracks, claim scientists.

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Published: 2:29PM GMT 14 Jan 2010

British researchers have developed a technique that highlights nerve cell damage in the retina of the eye which they have proved correlates exactly to nerve cell damage in the brain.

They say the quick, noninvasive and cheap test, which only involves applying eye-drops and then taking a photo with an infra-red camera, could revolutionise detection of dementia. Once diagnosed, treatment could begin immediately.
"Few people realise that the retina is a direct, albeit thin, extension of the brain," said Professor Francesca Cordeiro, lead author at University College London.

"It is entirely possible that in the future a visit to an eye doctor to check on your eyesight will also be a check on the state of your brain."

The technique, which is just starting human trials and could be available within two years, involves highlighting nerve cell damage in the eye using a chemical marker that glows when it finds it.

This can either be administered as an injection in the arm or eye-drops.

Once the substance is in the body it seeks out nerve cells that are dying and chemically marks them. All opticians and doctors need then do is use an infrared camera to take a picture of the eye and count how many dots appear in the photo.

Researchers, who published their findings in the journal Cell Death & Disease, have calculated that anything more than 20 could indicate the early onset of Alzheimer's.

Professor Cordeiro, who worked with Professor Stephen Moss, said: "The death of nerve cells is the key event in all neuro-degenerative disorders – but until now it has not been possible to study cell death in a living eye.

"Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's is critical in order to stop and reverse the cell death before it is too late. Once brains cells are dead there is no way to revive them.

"If you catch Alzheimer's Disease early enough you can slow it down and even reinvigorate the cells."

Alzheimer's charities welcomed the research and said it could change the way the disease is studied, diagnosed and monitored.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: ""We know as Alzheimer's disease develops, cells in the brain die and the brain shrinks.

"The study of this disease has been hampered by the difficulty of following the progress directly in the human brain. This research is very exciting as it opens up the possibility of observing individual cells on the human retina using a relatively non-invasive procedure.

"In the longer term this technique could be used for diagnostic purposes or to help researchers monitor the effects of drugs under development. However, much more research needs to be done before we know if we can get to this stage."

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: "Although this study uses animals, it is hoped that the technique can be modified for human use. These findings have the potential to transform the way we diagnose Alzheimer's, greatly enhancing efforts to develop new treatments and cures.

"If we spot Alzheimer's in its earliest stages, we may be able to treat and reverse the progression of the disease as new treatments are developed. Dementia scientists currently lack a way of assessing the brain's responses to new treatments in real-time. This technique may help overcome that obstacle."

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, which affects around 700,000 people in the UK.

One million Britons are expected to develop dementia in the next 10 years.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Crafting Light-Sensing Cells from Human Skin

From Technology Review:

Photoreceptors created from induced pluripotent stem cells.
By Janelle Weaver

Think twice the next time you wipe a few flecks of dandruff from your shoulder. You might be shedding cells that may someday restore human vision.

Thomas Reh and colleagues at the University of Washington, in Seattle, have generated light-sensing retinal cells, called photoreceptors, from adult human skin cells. They then transplanted the cells into a mouse retina, showing that the photoreceptors integrated normally into the surrounding tissue. This technological feat raises hopes for the development of treatments for retinal diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration, which cause visual impairment or blindness in millions of people in the U.S.

Researchers used induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology, activating a handful of genes in skin cells in order to revert them to a flexible embryonic state. They then used previously developed methods to differentiate the cells into photoreceptors. While Reh's team has done similar experiments using embryonic stem cells, iPS cells are a preferable source for cell replacement therapies because they can be derived from the patient. Skin cells are a ready source of cells that are tissue-matched to the recipient, bypassing problems associated with immune rejection of stem-cell transplants.

The cells also provide a new way to study retinal degeneration diseases and to identify drug targets. Retinitis pigmentosa, for example, is an inherited disorder in which the photoreceptors begin to die. Retinal cells derived from a patient with the disease harbor all the genetic mutations that contributed to the patient's disease, so scientists can try to determine the molecular mechanisms that lead to cell death. They can then use the cells to screen for molecules that can slow or stop the damage.

"There are no good drugs to slow photoreceptor degeneration," said Reh, a neurobiologist at the University of Washington. "One reason we don't have more molecules we can test is that we don't have good animal models for many human retinal diseases."

Scientists will still need to overcome some serious hurdles before using the cells for transplantation therapies. The genetic flaws that led to the disease would need to be fixed before implanting the cells into the eye. And researchers need to figure out how to get large volumes of cells to integrate effectively into the retina. In the current experiments, published last month in the journal PLoS ONE, the number of cells that took root in the mouse eye was too low to restore visual sensitivity. "We need about 10,000 cells to integrate into the retina for them to restore function," Reh said.

Future research will have to explore how well the transplanted photoreceptors connect with other cell types in the retina and function as an integrated circuit. "The work still ahead is huge," said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology. "But this is a very important first step."