Two Macular Degeneration Patients Get Sight Back from Stem Cells in the UK
A new stem cell treatment performed in London has given back sight to two patients. Douglas Waters, who suffered from severe macular degeneration and could not see out of his right eye, says, “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.”
Macular degeneration is a common ailment in the aging population, causing a loss of central vision that is directly in front of the eye and used for many daily tasks such as driving and reading. In the UK alone, 600,000 to 700,000 people are currently suffering with age-related macular degeneration.
In the trial, researchers have focused only on “wet” macular degeneration, which is a result of blood vessel leakage into the retina’s macula. The eye’s retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells are a vital part of our ability to sense light, so destroying the macula with leakage can result in blindness within 6 weeks. However, researchers found that by guiding embryonic stem cells to grow into RPE cells, doctors can surgically implant a patch of new RPE cells into the patients’ eyes.
For the two patients, this has been a phenomenal success. Douglas Waters, in his 80’s, and another woman in her 60’s, were chosen due to their advanced stage of disease. Following a ten-line chart measurement, the expectation was that they would regain about three lines of vision, without reading vision. However, one year after treatment, they have improved almost twice as much as expected, at 5 and 6 lines, and both are able to read again.
Currently, the treatment is only for “wet” macular degeneration, but there is hope that researchers will ultimately be able to also treat “dry” macular degeneration, which happens as the macula gradually breaks down. Though the treatment is still in its early stages, this has been an encouraging example that gives hope to other patients with retinal degenerations that there will be an effective stem cell treatment in the near future.