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Sight regained after stem cell treatment

18/04/2018By Matthew Woodley • Staff Journalist
Two elderly patients with severe neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have regained sight after receiving retinal tissue derived from stem cells.

The specially engineered patch of retinal pigment epithelium cells was implanted under the retina of each affected eye by researchers from the University College of London (UCL) and Moorfields Eye Hospital. A report on the procedure, published in Nature Biotech, suggested the treatment was safe and effective, after the patients – a woman in her 60’s and a man in his 80’s – experienced significant improvements to their vision with no adverse effects.


“The results suggest that this new therapeutic approach is safe and provides good visual outcomes.”
Professor Lyndon da Cruz, study co-author

“This study represents real progress in regenerative medicine and opens the door to 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,” co-author Professor Pete Coffey from UCL’s Institute of Ophthalmology said.

In the 12 months following the procedure, the patients went from not being able to read at all, to reading 60–80 words per minute with normal reading glasses.

“The results suggest that this new therapeutic approach is safe and provides good visual outcomes. The patients who received the treatment had very severe AMD, and their improved vision will go some way towards enhancing their quality of life,” study co-author Professor Lyndon da Cruz said. 

“We recognise that this is a small group of patients, but we hope that what we have learned from this study will benefit many more in the future.”

Meanwhile, a team from the University of Southern California (USC) has achieved promising results using a similar approach to treat four people with advanced atrophic AMD. The USC researchers grew stem cell-derived RPE membranes on an ultrathin, synthetic parylene substrate designed to mimic Bruch’s membrane.

As the trial was primarily designed to test the safety of the implant, only patients with very advanced AMD were included which meant the researchers did not expect much improvement. However, one patient was able to read 17 more letters on an eye chart following the surgery, while two other eyes demonstrated improved fixation.

The results were published in Science Translational Medicine.

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