Scientist just made a breakthrough in treating a common form of blindness after two patients successfully regained their vision.
The therapy for a common form of blindness could potentially be available within the next five years, researchers said. The claim was made after two patients were given the experimental stem cell treatment and gained back their vision.
According to reports, the patients were suffering from advanced AMD or age-related macular degeneration which targets and destroys a person’s central vision. The treatment received by the two individuals enabled them to regain enough eyesight to be able to read.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, researchers from the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London explained their study. The researchers reportedly used a retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) patch made from human stem cells to carry out the treatment.
“We engineered an RPE patch comprising a fully differentiated, human embryonic stem cell (hESC)–derived RPE monolayer on a coated, synthetic basement membrane. We delivered the patch, using a purpose-designed microsurgical tool, into the subretinal space of one eye in each of two patients with severe exudative AMD,” the researchers wrote.
Treating the Most Common Form of Blindness
AMD is considered a common form of blindness that affects around 11 million people in the United States alone. This eye disease has two types: wet and dry. It is said that the two patients had wet AMD, which is typically caused by fluid leaks onto the macula from abnormal blood vessels.
The macula is an essential part of the eye’s retina. It is made up of light-sensing rods, cone cells, and a “nourishing” layer of cells known as the retinal pigment epithelium.
“As you get older, parts of you stop working. [F]or the first time we’ve been able to take a cell and make it into a specific part of the eye that’s failing and put it back in the eye and get vision back,” Lyndon da Cruz, one of the researchers, said in an interview with BBC News.
The therapy used to treat the common form of blindness involved human stem cells. For this particular study, the scientists used embryonic stem cells to form the RPE patch. The researchers then performed a two-hour operation on both the patients to deliver the patch under the cones and rods behind the affected eye.
A year after the operation, the first patient’s reading speed miraculously jumped from 1.7 words a minute to 82.8 words a minute. Conversely, the other patient has shown significant improvement from 0 words a minute to 47.8 words a minute.
To date, both patients have not shown any sign of complication though there are concerns that stem cell treatment raises the risk of developing cancer.
“This study represents real progress in regenerative medicine,” Pete Coffey of the University College London’s Institute of Ophthalmology was quoted as saying. “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.”