Does Stem Cell Therapy Have Us on the Fast Track to a Macular Degeneration Cure?
“This study represents real progress in regenerative medicine.”
That’s what Professor Pete Coffey, from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, called the latest groundbreaking news coming out of a clinical trial conducted at the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London.
Does this mean a legitimate macular degeneration cure is on the near horizon? The National Stem Cell Institute (NSI), a leading regenerative clinic in the United States is watching the progress closely.
The medical teams involved with the study believe the treatment may very well be on course to the development of an “off-the-shelf” macular degeneration cure in as little as five years.
The trial focused on the impact that a specially designed stem cell-based patch could have on reversing macular disease.
While the study centered around patients diagnosed with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), optimism is high that the stem cell treatment can also be adapted for treating dry AMD, which is the form of macular disease most often diagnosed.
Why a Macular Degeneration Cure is So Important
Nearly 200 million people worldwide suffer from macular disease. In the U.S. alone, the number exceeds 11 million. Macular disease affects the eye by attacking the layer known as the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE).
This layer separates blood vessels from the nerve layer and nourishes the retina. When the layer is damaged macular disease can occur, causing chronic vision problems.
A viable macular degeneration cure would impact hundreds of millions of people all over the globe.
How the Stem Cell Patch was Applied
To create a perfect copy of the retinal pigment epithelium layer, the researchers began with a single stem cell, reproducing it many times over to create a small patch of RPE tissue.
The patch was then inserted under the retina of the test subjects to replace the cells damaged by macular disease.
The trial was designed to find out if the diseased cells at the back an eye with AMD could be replenished through the use of a stem cell-based patch, in the hopes of developing a true macular degeneration cure.
Surgery was performed on two patients: a female in her early sixties and a male in his late eighties.
Both had wet age-related macular degeneration. In both cases, the patients were suffering from declining vision.
The researchers engineered a specialized surgical tool to insert the patch in the diseased eye of both patients during the procedure.
To set the stem cell-based patch in place, a surgical tool was specifically engineered to insert it beneath the retina of the diseased eye. Both patients were monitored for twelve months after receiving the patch.
In both cases, significant and measurable improvement was reported by the patient.
Prior to the surgery neither could read through the diseased eye, even with the aid of glasses.
After the surgery, both demonstrated that they could read sixty to eighty words a minute with the aid of standard reading glasses.
The man who participated in the trial, eighty-six year old Douglas Waters, says, “In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye… 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.”
According to Professor Lyndon da Cruz of Moorfields Eye Hospital, “The results suggest that this new therapeutic approach is safe and provides good visual outcomes. [The patients’] improved vision will go some way towards enhancing their quality of life. [This is] a small group of patients, but we hope that what we have learned from this study will benefit many more in the future.”
Why the Medical World is Sitting Up and Taking Notice
The collaboration of these prestigious United Kingdom foundations, medical centers, and trusts has the medical world in general paying close attention.
The Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and its academic partner, the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, are renowned for their eye research and education.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and the NIHR Moorfields Clinical Research Facility (CRF) for Experimental Medicine aim to accelerate the progress of biomedical research, clinical testing pathways, and better pave the way toward breakthroughs that benefit mankind.
And the Moorfields Eye Charity supports the continuing works of Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology in the their missions to provide the best possible patient care, in educating tomorrow’s researchers and clinicians, and supporting cutting-edge research aimed at developing not just a macular degeneration cure, but new treatments for all vision-related diseases.
A Macular Degeneration Cure May Well Be Just a Handful of Years Away
Physicians and specialists in the U.S. and worldwide that deal with macular disease are particularly optimistic about the news coming from this initial trial.
It is looking more and more likely that a macular degeneration cure will be developed due to groundbreaking research and clinical trials like this one.
When can American citizens reap the benefits? The National Stem Cell Institute (NSI) is poised and ready to help introduce a macular degeneration cure to the U.S. as soon as it is developed. Stay tuned!