Testing stem cells to cure blindness

Sep 29, 2015, 3:54 PM EDT
Getty Images
Getty Images

U.K. surgeons have carried out a pioneering human embryonic stem cell operation in an ongoing trial to find a cure for blindness. The first trial was just performed on a 60-year-old woman with age-related macular degeneration at London's Moorfields Eye Hospital. The BBC reports:

It involved "seeding" a tiny patch with specialised eye cells and implanting it at the back of the retina.
 
The London Project to Cure Blindness was established a decade ago to try to reverse vision loss in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
 
Ten patients with the wet form of AMD will undergo the procedure.
 
All will have suffered a sudden loss of vision as a result of defective blood vessels in the eye.
 
They will be monitored for a year to check that the treatment is safe and whether their vision improves.
 
The woman who was the patient - and does not wish to be named - had the operation last month.
 
 
Age-related macular degeneration is a common eye condition and the leading cause of vision loss among people 50 and older, according to the National Eye Institute. There are two forms of the condition: "wet" and "dry." The wet form is usually caused by abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid or blood into the region of the macula, in the center of the retina. Wet macular degeneration almost always begins as dry macular degeneration.
 
Dry macular degeneration is far more common and affects 90 percent of people with the condition. It occurs when there is a breakdown or thinning of the layer of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells in the macula, which support the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells that are critical to vision.
 
The current trial, which is part of the London Project to Cure Blindness, will test the safety and efficacy of transplanting RPE cells derived from stem cells to treat people with sudden severe visual loss from wet age-related macular degeneration.

 

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