Treatment for a common cause of blindness could be available in 5 years
05/25/2018 // David Williams // Views

If you suffered from one of the most common forms of blindness, what would you give to be able to cure it? That's a question that might be up for discussion as a group of U.K. researchers has reportedly developed a potential fix for one common cause of blindness. And what's more, it could be ready for public use within the next five years.

It is said that age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which ends up destroying a person's central vision, is one of the most common causes of blindness. But with the use of a revolutionary stem cell therapy, the researchers were able to reverse its effects on at least two different patients.

They did this through implanting a "patch" of stem cells over damaged areas at the back of the eyes. As a result, the patients were able to not only read again but also see faces that used to be nothing but blurry images on even fuzzier backgrounds. The solution was crafted at the London Project to Cure Blindness, which is a collaboration between experts from University College London (UCL) and Moorfields Eye Hospital.

According to Pete Coffey, a professor at UCL, the improvement in vision – which is usually measured by way of lines on a reading chart – proved to be a lot better than they expected. "We said we'd get three [out of the proposed 10] patients with vision recovery of three lines. They probably wouldn't get reading vision back," he said. "The first patient has got six lines improvement, which is astounding, and the second has five lines and he seems to be getting better as the months go by."


What's even more interesting is that they are both really reading, said Coffey. "At best [the woman] could read about one word a minute with magnification. She is now reading 80 words a minute and [the man] is reading 50." (Related: Stem cell therapy becoming more widely accepted.)

"Wet" and "dry" macular degeneration

The cure devised by the researchers was made specifically for patients that suffered from the "wet" form of AMD, which is said to be caused by sudden leakage from blood vessels in the eye that ends up destroying the macula, a key component of the retina. Evidently, retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells that can be found in the macula are highly important to the functioning of the light sensitive photoreceptor cells in the eye, and they just die without the necessary RPE support.

Given the success of their latest trials, the researchers are now looking to test their cure on at least one more patient in order to ensure that it is truly safe. If everything goes well, Coffey thinks that an off-the-shelf version of their treatment could become available for surgeons to use within the next five years. However, the cure will be limited for only about the 10 percent of AMD patients which have the wet form of it. Dry AMD is more problematic in that it develops slowly in comparison and can't be cured. However, that could change in the future, said Coffey.

According to Dr. Carmel Toomes, an associate professor at the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, the results of this research are quite promising. "These results give the many patients out there who suffer from AMD and other retinal degenerations real hope that stem cells replacement therapy may be a reality in the near future," she said. The fact that this early clinical trial has shown positive results means that a cure truly could be quite close to becoming a reality.

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