Doctors have made a significant breakthrough for people battling chronic eye diseases. Using a stem cell procedure, doctors have successfully helped two people regain eyesight.
A team of doctors in the UK treated a form of macular degeneration in two patients using a cutting-edge stem cell therapy. Normally, “wet” macular degeneration is irreversible, in the sense that there is no known treatment that can restore vision in those affected. Current drugs are limited in their effectiveness, at most preventing further vision loss or improving remaining vision to an extent.
How the degenerative disease works is that, through the years, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and macula in the eye. In doing so, these blood vessels cause blurriness and blind spots that ultimately lead to vision loss. Because of how the disease develops, doctors figured that replacing the affected eye cells with stem cells from a human embryo was their best bet to regain patients’ eyesight.
Unlike most types of cells, embryonic stem cells can assume other cells’ functions, essentially replacing them. In this case, doctors developed them into the cells that make up the retinal pigment epithelium. In order to work, the team had to embed them into a scaffold, a living patch of cells. Afterwards, that patch was placed under the rods and cones in the back of the eye.
The complex procedure was a complete success. Since the operation, both patients have been able to read 60 to 80 words per minute with normal reading glasses, reads the journal Nature Biotechnology. Prior to the operation, neither were able to read even with eyeglasses on. There have been no apparent side effects, but doctors insist that further trials are needed. Hopefully, those trials will lead to a definitive cure, one that will restore 100% eyesight to patients living with macular degeneration.