Stem cell surgery aims to give sight back to people with AMD

29 September 15

written by:

Ade Deane-Pratt

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A 60-year-old woman has become the world’s first person to have an experimental stem cell treatment for age-related macular degeneration.

A 60-year-old woman has become the world’s first person to have an experimental stem cell treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD affects more than half a million people in the UK and is one of the leading causes of sight loss. In AMD, light-sensitive ‘photoreceptor’ cells become damaged and eventually die in a part of the retina called the macula. We use the macula for central, detailed and colour vision.

The treatment involved an operation to transplant a sheet of specialised cells, known as retinal pigment epithelial cells, under the retina. The sheet, or ‘patch’, was grown in the lab from embryonic stem cells, which can become any type of cell in the body.

Replacing dead cells

Retinal pigment epithelial cells nourish and support the photoreceptors. So the aim of treatment was to replace the dead and dying retinal pigment epithelial cells and stop any further sight loss.

The surgery is part of a pilot study by the London Project to Cure Blindness – a partnership between Moorfields, University College London Institute of Ophthalmology and the National Institute for Health Research – which was founded by Prof Pete Coffey.

“Stem cell treatment has great potential to give sight back to people with AMD,” said Dr Dolores M Conroy, Director of Research at Fight for Sight. “This is a very high priority for patients, carers and eye health professionals, as identified in the Sight Loss and Vision Priority Setting Partnership.”

The operation itself went well, but it’s still too early to say whether the treatment will successfully restore vision. Nine more patients with the ‘wet’ form of AMD will take part in the study, which is funded by pharmaceutical company Pfizer, over the next 18 months.

Fight for Sight is funding Prof Coffey on another project using stem cells grown from skin cells. The aim is to develop cells for transplant in inherited retinal conditions as well as for use to develop new drug treatments for conditions including AMD.

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