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Efforts to treat age-related macular degeneration with stem cells reach important milestone

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Posted September 30, 2015

10 years ago Moorfields Eye Hospital, the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, UCL Business PLC and the National Institute for Health Research launched a London Project to Cure Blindness. This project is aimed at curing the wet type of age-related macular degeneration and now it reached a major milestone.

People with age-related macular degeneration suddenly lose the centre part of their vision. Condition is hard to treat and is a leading cause of blindness for people over 60. Now scientists are trialling a method to treat it using stem cells. Image credit: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia, Public Domain

People with age-related macular degeneration suddenly lose the centre part of their vision. Condition is hard to treat and is a leading cause of blindness for people over 60. Now scientists are trialling a method to treat it using stem cells. Image credit: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia, Public Domain

The hospital just successfully performed a surgery on a patient, using new treatment derived from stem cells. Scientists are already saying that in the future many people who suddenly lost eyesight will benefit from this method.

Back in 2009 Pfizer Inc. joined the partnership in order to help project to reach trialling phase. Now new innovative treatment is already being investigated. Scientists are testing its safety and efficacy. Method itself relies on stem cells – patients with sudden severe visual loss from wet age-related macular degeneration are treated by transplanting eye cells (retinal pigment epithelium) derived from stem cells.

During surgery these cells are transplanted in the place of diseased ones in the back of the eye. Although it is a very significant medical achievement, which required a lot of efforts from scientists of different fields, surgery only takes from one to two hours.

During the surgery a specially engineered patch is inserted behind the retina. Last month the first such successful surgery was performed and there have been no complications to date. Although doctors are calling this surgery successful, the outcome in terms of initial visual recovery will only be determined at the end of this year.

But even now scientists are saying that in the future patients with wet age-related macular degeneration will benefit greatly from transplantation of eye cells derived from stem cells. In fact, further surgeries are already planned. The entire trial will recruit 10 patients in total over a period of 18 months. Each of these participants will be followed for a year, in order to investigate the safety and stability of the cells and what effect on restoring lost vision transplantation has.

Professor Pete Coffey, who is co-leading the London Project, said: “We are tremendously pleased to have reached this stage in the research for a new therapeutic approach. Although we recognise this clinical trial focuses on a small group of AMD patients who have experienced sudden severe visual loss, we hope that many patients may benefit in the future.”

And, although we still have to wait and see what results this decade long research will soon give, it is hard to overestimate the hard work and efforts put into it. The project brought together a lot of scientists from different fields and was funded by a variety of charity organizations, large philanthropic donations, government funding agencies, private donors and other sources. And all this is going for a right cause.

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause for loss of vision for people with age of over 60. It is characterized by deterioration of the centre of the retina, called the macula, which inevitably leads to loss of central vision. There are two forms of this condition: dry and wet.

Scientists in this research focused on the wet type of age-related macular degeneration, which causes vision loss due to abnormal blood vessel growth in the choriocapillaris, through Bruch’s membrane. Because these blood vessels are fragile, condition leads to bleeding, scarring and loss of vision if left untreated. In this case, only transplantation of the eye cells is effective, which makes this new treatment very hopeful news for all people who are suffering from age-related macular degeneration.

Source: ucl.ac.uk

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