Embryonic stem cells have done it again. A pioneering trial has treated the first age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patient who was suffering from blindness with a revolutionary treatment co-developed by Pfizer.
The first of 10 operations scheduled at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital, this intervention was deemed by specialists as “successful”, giving hope for the next trial participants. Researchers are testing the efficacy and safety of transplanting retinal pigment epithelium – eye cells – into the eye, finding yet another application for the popular embryonic stem cells.
Stem cells are the source of all other cells, also known as the body’s “master cells.” The general opinion among scientists who support the use of embryonic stem cells is that they change the face of medicine, acting as treatment for severe injuries, juvenile diabetes and now, blindness. However, critics are against them because they come from human embryos.
Surgeons in the trial insert a bioengineered patch behind the retina which delivers the required treatment cells at the back of the eye, replacing the cells affected by the condition. Last month marked the first successful surgery of this kind, and according to a Moorfields statement, “there have been no complications to date”.
The patient wished to remain anonymous, but the team revealed that confirmed results of the outcome regarding the initial visual recovery will be made public by early December. The performing retinal surgeon Lyndon Da Cruz said he was confident the procedure could become mainstream, offering hope to many patients who need the transplantation of these cells.
In the developed world, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the source of roughly 50 per cent of all cases of vision loss or blindness.
People over 50 years old are the ones commonly affected by the condition, which comes in two forms, wet and dry. Less prevalent than dry ADM, wet AMD usually occurs when abnormal blood vessels leak fluid or blood into the center of the retina.
The London Project to Cure Blindness is the partnership that conducted this trial, a collaboration between the University College London’s (UCL) Institute of Ophthalmology, Moorfields, and Britain’s National Institute for Health Research. Back in 2009, Pfizer – the US pharmaceutical giant – also joined and provided with research.