Discovering a cure for cancer will make history but restoring sight to the blind is downright Biblical. Using stem cells, British physicians have managed to repair the degenerating tissue at the back of two patients’ eyes, using stem cells. There is now hope that, within the next five years, an affordable form of therapy based on this breakthrough will be made available to the UK and eventually, the rest of the world.
Macular degeneration is a disease that breaks down the layer of cells behind the light-sensitive rods and cones that form the eye’s retina. That layer, known as the retinal pigment epithelium, helps transport nutrients into the retina’s outer layer and removes waste. Without it, those materials build up and eventually kill the surrounding cells. Eventually, this degeneration spreads and turns into a blind spot that interferes with a person’s vision.
The condition is age-related and responsible for approximately half of all cases of blindness. It gets its name from a tiny zone called the macula, an area of tissue that captures most of the detail of whatever it is we’re focusing on. The blind spot tends to fall here, thus interfering with reading, watching TV, or even recognizing faces.
Existing treatments for most severe forms of macular degeneration have typically involved frequent injections into the eye. That alone is motivation for seeking a better approach.
86 year old Douglas Waters, one of the two recipients of the stem cell approach, spoke to BBC health and science correspondent, James Gallagher. He reported that, in the months leading up to the operation, he couldn’t see out of his right eye. This would mean losing half of his field of vision.
The two patients underwent a procedure where a patch of specially designed embryonic stem cells were inserted into their retina. The cells were engineered to replicate the diverse cells in the retinal pigment epithelium. A synthetic compound was used to help them stick in placed. After 12 months, a follow-up case study reported that both patients showed significant improvements.
The transplant was not perfect. There were some signs of rejection which caused an uneven spread of cells. They still seemed to appear healthy and both patients reported improvements in their vision.
Waters told the BBC that he could read the newspaper again. The research team gained permission to test the procedure on eight more recipients. Opthalmologist Pete Coffey, from the University College of London’s Institute of Opthalmology told the BBC that he hopes that an affordable, over-the-counter therapy will be available to England’s National Health Service patients within the next five years. As for the 100 million people worldwide facing a future with age-related macular degeneration, only time will tell.
So this may not be a cure for blindness. It is, however, the first of many promising therapies being tested. Another one actually involved injecting an engineered virus into the eye to slow and possibly reverse the effect s of the condition. Again, stem cells beat out injection just for being less invasive and, quite frankly, terrifying.
The AdvancedRM Advantage
All plans prepared by certified life care planners with 25 years of experience
Life Care Plan
We outline the cost of all treatment, services, and equipment needed in addition to identifying long-term costs for a client with a catastrophic injury, chronic illness, or disability. This report is typically created when expert testimony may be required.