A man in his 80s and a woman in her 60s, who both have advanced wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), have regained enough sight for reading after successfully undergoing a revolutionary treatment with stem cells.
AMD causes changes to the macula, which can lead to the loss of central vision. The new treatment involved the implantation of a specially engineered patch of stem cells under the retina to treat people with sudden and severe sight loss from wet AMD, in an operation lasting one to two hours.
The two patients went from not being able to read at all, even with glasses, to reading 60-80 words a minute with normal reading glasses – results that exceeded the expectations of the scientists carrying out the trial.
The treatment is the first example of a complete engineered tissue that has been successfully used in this way. The breakthrough comes from the London Project to Cure Blindness, a collaboration between Professor Pete Coffey of University College London and Professor Lyndon da Cruz, a retinal surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital.
A report in the Guardian notes that “one of the successes of the trial has been showing that there was no need for drugs to suppress the patient’s entire immune system to avoid rejection of the stem cells. The eye is self-contained, so they were able just to inject pellets that release immunosuppressant drugs into the eye over the course of two to three years.”
The scientists hope that this successful trial will lead to an affordable therapy that could be made available to NHS patients within the next five years, and to also use the patch to treat dry AMD.
Douglas Waters, 86, from Croydon, London was one of the two people who received the treatment. He developed severe wet AMD in July 2015 and received the treatment three months later in his right eye.
“In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye,” he said. “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.”
The results of this study are published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.Tags NB News (archive)