This woman is the first in UK to receive stem cell for blindness related illness
Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is an illness that affects more than 600,000 people in Britain alone. In some people, AMD progresses little by little, so much that vision loss does not happen for a long time. While in others, the disease grows faster and may cause loss of vision in one or both eyes.
But the Surgeons at Moorfields Eye Hospital, UK have come up with a ground breaking technique to reverse the vision loss caused by age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Here are the details of the ground breaking process.
1 The illness
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that causes worsening or breakdown of the eye’s macula. The macula is made up of millions of light-sensing cells that deliver sharp, central vision.
It is the most sensitive part of the retina, which is positioned at the back of the eye. The retina turns light into electrical indicators and then sends these electrical signals via the optic nerve to the brain, where they are interpreted into the images we see.
With macular degeneration, you may have indications such as fuzziness, dark areas or distortion in your central vision, and possibly permanent loss of your central vision. It generally does not disturb your side, or peripheral vision. With advanced macular degeneration, you could see the framework of a clock, yet may not be capable to see the hands of the clock to tell what time it is.
2 The women and the doctors involved
The surgery was performed by surgeons at Moorfields eye hospital in London, following research by scientists at University College London.
An additional nine patients will be treated over the course of next year and a half. A spokesperson for the Royal National Institute for the Blind called the news as a “great step forward” for blind people.
The patient suffers from “wet” macular degeneration, in which blood vessels cultivate at the back of the retina, injuring the cells. This is the less common but graver form of the disease, which causes a abrupt loss of central vision.
The team behind the procedure hope that it will also be effective for “dry” macular degeneration, which is instigated by accumulation of chemical deposits. That form of the disease is far more common, but progresses more slowly.
3 The procedure
The new technique comprises of growing eye cells, known as retinal pigment epithelium cells, from stem cells derived from human embryos. These cells have the capability to be grown into any kind of cell in the human body. The eye cells are then embedded into the retina of the patient.
There are some religious groups that think the use of embryonic stem cells is contentious because they include the damaging of an embryo. Professor Pete Coffey, the scientist leading the research said his group is being supported by the UK Medical Research Council to run another study, “possibly in two years’ time”, into using adult stem cells, or “induced pluripotent stem cells”. “If that works, we won’t have to use embryonic ones,” he said which would evade the moral debate. However, “we’ve got the embryonic stem cell line on the shelf, so stick with it”.
4 The result
The result of the first surgery will come out only until December, but Professor Pete Coffey, the scientist leading the research, is hopeful that the technique will “stop people going blind”. In wet AMD, he said, “there’s a window of about six weeks that’s crucial. If we can get the new cells in in that period, then we should be able to stop people going blind.” In the slower dry AMD, he said, it should be possible to intervene at an early stage to stop people losing their vision.
The study has been supported by the London Project to Cure Blindness, a joint project between Moorfields, the National Institute of Health Research, and UCL’s ophthalmology institute. Coffey is one of the founders of the project.