Scientists have helped two patients regain vision from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) with a clinical trial of a stem cell therapy, offering a glimmer of hope for the treatment of a common cause of blindness – NAN.
The breakthrough, published earlier this week in Nature Biotechnology, was made by the London Project to Cure Blindness, collaboration between University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital.
The two patients, a woman in her 60s and a man in his 80s, each had one eye implanted with a patch of stem cells. The number of letters each of them could read correctly off an eye chart increased dramatically after the procedure.
“In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye, but after the surgery my eyesight improved to the point where I can now read the newspaper and help my wife out with the gardening.” Douglas Waters (86-year-old).
Macular Degeneration is a problem with your retina. It happens when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged. With AMD you lose your central vision. There are two forms of macular degeneration, “wet” and “dry,” with similar problems.
“While this is only a very early clinical trial, the results are positive and show that the technology is moving along in the right direction,’’ Carmel Toomes, associate professor at the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine.
The team planned to treat 10 people, who had the “wet” form of AMD, caused by sudden blood vessels leakage in the eye.
OTHER POSSIBLE CAUSES OF BLINDNESS
Glaucoma: Condition of increased pressure within the eyeball, causing gradual loss of sight.
Catarract: A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40 and is the principal cause of blindness in the world.
River blindness: River blindness or Onchocerciasis is an eye and skin disease caused by a worm (filaria) known scientifically as Onchocerca volvulus. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of a blackfly (simulium species), those who live close to streams and rivers, are most at risk.
Refractive error: This occurs when the shape of your eye does not bend light correctly, resulting in a blurred image. The main types of refractive errors are myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), presbyopia (loss of near vision with age), and astigmatism.
Diabetic retinopathy: Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the tissue at the back of the eye (retina). Poorly controlled blood sugar is a risk factor.
Trachoma: Trachoma is a contagious bacterial infection which affects the conjunctival covering of the eye, the cornea, and the eyelids. It is often associated with poverty and lack of proper hygiene. Trachoma is caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria and is essentially totally preventable and curable.
There is Hope For The Future
While researchers say the study is promising, the treatment is still in early stages and not ready to make widely available. More research is needed to further determine the safety and effectiveness of the treatment, but they are hopeful they will be able to help more patients in the near future.
“This study represents real progress in regenerative medicine and opens the door to new treatment options for people with age-related macular degeneration,” Coffey said. “We hope this will lead to an affordable ‘off-the-shelf’ therapy that could be made available to NHS [U.K. National Health Service] patients within the next five years.”
According to WHO, in 2002 conditions that contribute to visual impairment are glaucoma (12.3%), age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (8.7%), corneal opacities (5.1%), diabetic retinopathy (4.8%), childhood blindness (3.9%), trachoma (3.6%), and onchocerciasis (0.8%).
It is important to go for regular eye checks, avoid smoking as well as eating healthy in other to maintain a good eye health.