AMD patients regain sight after receiving stem cell surgery

20 March 18

written by:

Yewande Omoniyi

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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of sight loss in the UK, and can lead to a rapid loss of central (reading) vision.

Results from a successful trial on patients using new stem cell based treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) showed the patients regained reading vision. The study was published in Nature Biotechnology yesterday (19 March 2018).

A specially engineered patch of retinal pigment epithelium cells, derived from stem cells, was implanted, to treat people with sudden severe sight loss from wet AMD. It’s the first description of a complete engineered tissue that has been successfully used in this way.

The study investigated whether the diseased cells at the back the patients’ affected eye could be replenished using the stem cell based patch. A specially engineered surgical tool was used to insert the patch under the retina in the affected eye of each patient in an operation lasting one to two hours. 

The two patients who underwent the procedure, a woman in her early 60s and a man in his 80s, had the severe form of the condition and declining vision. The patients were monitored for 12 months and reported improvements to their vision. They went from not being able to read at all even with glasses, to reading 60-80 words per minute with normal reading glasses.

Douglas Waters, 86, from Croydon, London, was one of two people who had received the treatment at Moorfields Eye Hospital. He developed severe wet AMD in July 2015 and received the treatment three months later in his right eye. He said: "In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye. I was struggling to see things clearly, even when up-close. After the surgery my eyesight improved to the point where I can now read the newspaper and help my wife out with the gardening. It’s brilliant what the team have done and I feel so lucky to have been given my sight back."

Professor Lyndon da Cruz, consultant retinal surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “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. 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.” 

Professor Pete Coffey, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, said: “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.”

 This piece of research was led by the London Project to Cure Blindness, who have acknowledged support from:

An anonymous philanthropic American donor, The Lincy Foundation USA, Moorfields Eye Charity, NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, The Macular Society, The UK Medical Research Council (MRC), Cells for Sight manufacturing facility at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields, Pfizer Inc, CIRM Bowes Foundation.

Additional AMD news

One of the funders of this work was the Macular Society, who partner with Fight for Sight via the Action Against AMD (AAA) partnership. AAA and BenevolentAI have recently launched a collaboration to use BenevolentAI’s technology to help find treatments and a potential cure for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in the UK. 

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