Patients Regain Sight After Being First to Get Retinal Tissue Engineered From Stem Cells

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LONDON—The first patients to receive a new treatment derived from stem cells for people with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have regained reading vision. The patients took part in a successful study conducted by the London Project to Cure Blindness, a partnership between Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The research findings suggest the treatment is safe and effective, and could lead to an “off-the-shelf” treatment within five years.

The results of study, published in Nature Biotech, described the implantation of a specially engineered patch of retinal pigment epithelium cells derived from stem cells to treat people with sudden severe sight loss from wet AMD. It's the first description of a complete engineered tissue that has been successfully used in this way. The researchers hope that the treatment 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 to 80 words per minute with normal reading glasses.