Cure For Blindness? Stem Cell Therapy Offers Hope

A cure for blindness in patients with age-related macular degeneration may be on the horizon. Doctors with the London Project to Cure Blindness confirmed 10 patients will undergo an experimental procedure that could slow or reverse the debilitating condition.

Age-related macular degeneration is a common, but devastating, condition affecting the vision of adults over the age of 50.

As explained by the National Eye Institute, AMD causes damage to a portion of the retina called the macula. Located in the rear portion of the eye, the macula is "the most sensitive part of the eye."

Although the condition progresses slowly in most patients, the onset can be more aggressive for some.

Patients with AMD initially experience blurred or distorted sight in the center of vision, as the macula is located in the center of the retina. As the condition progresses, patients may experience worsening loss of vision in one or both eyes.

Although AMD does not cause total loss of vision, "the loss of central vision in AMD can interfere with simple everyday activities, such as the ability to see faces, drive, read, write, or do close work."

As there is no cure for blindness, advanced stages of the condition can be devastating. According to the National Eye Institute, anyone can develop age-related macular degeneration. However, risk factors may include family history and smoking.

AMD treatment options vary depending on the stage of progression when diagnosed. Although early AMD can be detected by an eye care professional, there are no current treatment options for early AMD. Intermediate and late AMD can be treated with vitamin supplements. However, the effectiveness of this treatment is unclear.

Advanced neovascular AMD can be treated with ocular injections, laser treatment, and laser surgery. Although these treatment options may help treat the condition, there is no absolute cure for blindness caused by AMD.

As reported by the Express, scientists in the UK are currently exploring an experimental treatment, which uses embryonic stem cells to replace the damaged macula.

Essentially, embroyonic stem cells are being used to grow patches of new cells that are "transplanted onto the eye." According to the doctors, the stem cells were harvested from "donated embryos that were created during IVF treatment but never used."

If the procedure works as planned, the doctors may have discovered a cure for blindness in patients with AMD.

The first of 10 experimental procedures was performed in recent weeks on an unnamed 60-year-old woman. It is unclear whether the procedure slowed or reversed the patient's AMD, as it may take several months to heal. However, doctors said the woman has not experienced any unforeseen complications.

In the next year and a half, nine more patients will undergo the experimental procedure. All then patients, including the 60-year-old woman, were diagnosed with advanced age-related macular degeneration.

In the UK alone, an estimated 600,000 people suffer with some form of AMD. Essentially, "one in every 10 people over 65 has some degree of AMD."

Although there is no current cure for blindness, the experimental treatment offers hope for patients who have suffered a devastating loss of vision.

As reported by BBC News, the doctors hope the procedure will improve the patient's quality of life.

Prof. Lyndon Da Cruz of Moorfields Eye Hospital, who performed the surgery on the 60-year-old woman, said the treatment may also be effective in treating patients with earlier stages of the devastating condition.

The London Project to Cure Blindness' research is being funded by pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Although it is unclear whether the procedure will prove to be a cure for blindness, the doctors are confident that they will have positive results.

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