NEWARK, Calif., Sept. 18, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- StemCells, Inc. (Nasdaq:STEM) today announced the publication of preclinical data confirming that the Company's proprietary HuCNS-SC cells (purified human neural stem cells) preserve photoreceptor cells and visual function in a widely used model of retinal degeneration. The data show not only that HuCNS-SC cells preserve the number of photoreceptors that would otherwise be lost, but also that the surviving photoreceptors appear healthy and normal, and maintain their synaptic connection to other important cells necessary for visual function. The study was published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science (IVOS), the journal of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and is available at ( http://www.iovs.org/content/early/recent .) These results are highly relevant to disorders of vision loss, the most notable of which is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which afflicts approximately 30 million people worldwide. "This study demonstrates that, at the cellular and sub-cellular level, the surviving photoreceptors have all the components that characterize a healthy and normal photoreceptor, and they have the correct synaptic connections," said Nicolas Cuenca, PhD, Professor in the Department of Physiology, Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Alicante, Spain, and lead author of the paper. "The robust anatomical preservation of the photoreceptors and their synaptic connections most likely underlie the preservation of visual function. "In addition, this study confirmed our preliminary hypothesis that HuCNS-SC cells phagocytose photoreceptor outer segments. The phagocytic activity of the HuCNS-SC cells restores a function normally performed by retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE) cells." The Company is currently conducting a Phase I/II clinical trial in the dry form of AMD, the most prevalent form of the disease. The preclinical data underlying this Phase I/II clinical trial was previously published in the European Journal of Neuroscience ( http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07970.x/abstract). That data demonstrated that HuCNS-SC cells protect host photoreceptors (both rods and cones) and preserve vision in the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) rat, a well-established animal model of retinal disease that has been used extensively to evaluate potential cellular therapies. The Company's Phase I/II clinical trial in dry AMD is currently enrolling patients at the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford in Palo Alto, California, and at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, Texas. The Company recently dosed the first high-dose patient in the trial. To date, a total of five patients have been dosed in the 16-patient trial. Patients interested in participating in the clinical trial should contact the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford at (650) 498-4486 or the Retina Foundation of the Southwest at (214) 363-3911. The Company is working to open additional sites in the United States.