London – Surgeons at Moorfields Eye Hospital, United Kingdom, have carried out the first embryonic stem cell operation to cure Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), making their patient the first one to ever receive these treatments.

Age-related macular degeneration is an eye condition that leads to the deterioration of the center of the retina, called the macula, resulting in blindness. It is the most common form of blindness of people 50 and older. There is not a cure for the disease, since when the cells are damaged or lost they are thought to lead to AMD.

There are two forms of the condition: “wet” and “dry.” Dry age-related macular degeneration is the most common type of this condition and affects 90% of the patients. It occurs when there is a breakdown of the layer of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells in the macula.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over age 60. It occurs when the small central portion of the retina, known as the macula, deteriorates. The retina is the light-sensing nerve tissue at the back of the eye. Image: Optician Online/Wikipedia

The wet form is a type of less common but more serious blindness, generally caused by abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid or blood into the region of the macula. Wet macular degeneration almost always begins as dry macular degeneration.

A 60-year-old woman, whose name remains uncovered, received the pioneering stem cell treatment to treat her wet AMD. The surgeons inserted a bioengineered patch behind her retina, which replaces the cells affected by the condition, by delivering the required treatment cell on the back of the eye.

Before the trial, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells from stem cells taken from human embryos were grown to later be implanted at the back of the retina.

“There is real potential that people with wet age-related macular degeneration will benefit in the future from transplantation of these cells,” retinal surgeon Professor Lyndon Da Cruz from Moorfields Eye Hospital, who is performing the operations and co-leading the London Project, said in the statement.

Besides the women, surgeons chose other nine patients that also have wet macular degeneration and will be treated over the next 18 months.

After the surgery, the doctors will follow up these patients to see their response to the treatment along with its efficiency and safety. If it shows to be successful, then it should be applied to patients with dry macular degeneration, a more common and less severe form of the condition. However, the outcome will be known after December.

Source: Macular Society