First UK Patient Receives New Stem Cell Treatment to Cure Loss of Vision
An experimental stem cell treatment for age-related macular degeneration has been carried out for the first time in the UK on a woman who has lost her central vision. The treatment has the potential to restore her sight, and save the sight of thousands of British patients.
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in adults globally, affecting more than 600,000 adults in the UK alone. The condition occurs when the cells at the middle of the retina become damaged, resulting in a loss of central vision.
The new procedure involves inserting eye cells derived from stem cells grown in a lab into the retina. The cells are grown to form a patch which is injected into the eye through a tiny slit. Once it unfurls, it is placed behind the retina where scientists hope it will replace the faulty cells that are causing loss of vision.
The woman who received the treatment has suffered no complications and her eye appears to be recovering well from the procedure. By December, doctors will know whether she has regained her sight.
“There is real potential that people with wet age-related macular degeneration will benefit in the future from transplantation of these cells,” says retinal surgeon Professor Lyndon Da Cruz, who conducted the operation. “The reason we are very excited is that we have been able to create these very specific cells and been able to transfer them to the patient. It’s the combination of being able to create the cells that are missing and demonstrate that we can safely transplant them.”
The stem cell treatment will be trialled on a further 10 patients over 18 months – all of whom have the ‘wet’ form of macular degeneration. Doctors believe it might also eventually work for those who have the more common ‘dry’ form.
If the technique is successful throughout this trial, it could be available on the NHS within two and a half years.
Professor Pete Coffey of UCL, one of the treatment’s developers, says: “We are tremendously pleased to have reached this stage in the research. There are nearly 700,000 patients with AMD in the UK. That’s a huge population which could benefit.”