Patients regain sight after being first to receive retinal tissue engineered from stem cells.
Doctors have taken a major step towards curing the most common form of blindness in the UK - age-related macular degeneration.
The macula is the part of the eye that allows you to see straight ahead – whether to recognise faces, watch TV or read a book.
Douglas Waters, 86, could not see out of his right eye, but “I can now read the newspaper” with it, he says.
He was one of two patients given pioneering stem cell therapy at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
This ground-breaking treatment involves the implantation of a specially engineered patch of retinal pigment epithelium cells derived from stem cells.
It is used to treat people with sudden severe sight loss from wet Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). It is hoped that it will also help treat dry AMD in the future.
The study investigated whether the diseased cells at the back the patients’ affected eye could be replenished using the stem cell-based patch.
A specially engineered surgical tool was used to insert the patch under the retina in the affected eye of each patient in an operation lasting one to two hours.
The patients were monitored for 12 months and reported improvements to their vision.
They went from not being able to read at all even with glasses, to reading 60-80 words per minute with normal reading glasses.
When Will It Be Available On The NHS?
Prof Pete Coffey, from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, said: “This study represents real progress in regenerative medicine.”
This is likely to lead to an affordable ‘off-the-shelf’ therapy that could be made available to NHS patients within the next four years.