A pioneering new trial which used stem cells to regrow cells in the eye has successfully restored the sight of two patients. This is the first procedure of its kind to be successfully carried out, and scientists believe it could bring a safe, effective and affordable treatment option for other patients with age related macular degeneration. The technique involves growing macular cells from embryonic stem cells which were then attached to a plastic “patch” which helps to recreate the structure of the eye. This patch was then used to replace the affected macular cells in the patients.

According to Professor Pete Coffey of UCL: “This study represents real progress in regenerative medicine and opens the door on new treatment options for people with age-related macular degeneration. We hope this will lead to an affordable ‘off-the-shelf’ therapy that could be made available to NHS patients within the next five years.”

AMD is one of the most common causes of blindness, and affects 1.75 million people in the US. Both the patients, a woman in her sixties and a man in his eighties, who both suffered from AMD, were able to read again after the treatment. They both suffered from severe vision impairment prior to the trial. In the year following their treatment, both reported vast improvements in their overall sight. And while further trials would need to be carried out to ensure the safety, scientists are hopeful that it could be used as a treatment option in the near future.

Douglas Waters, 86, from the UK, who was one of the patients treated in the study said: “In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye. I was struggling to see things clearly, even when up-close. After the surgery my eyesight improved to the point where I can now read the newspaper and help my wife out with the gardening. It’s brilliant what the team have done and I feel so lucky to have been given my sight back.”

Dr Carmel Toomes, associate professor at the Leeds Institutes of Molecular Medicine said: “What’s exciting about this study is that the patients recorded an increase in vision. Patients with very poor vision are chosen for phase 1 trials because of their “untested” nature. To see an improvement is a good sign that that this therapy may help patients in the future, although further studies are needed before real conclusions can be drawn.”

 

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