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Stem cell treatment restores sight in most common form of blindness


A new treatment that repairs damaged retinas using tissue created by stem cells has successfully restored sight in people with wet age-related macular degeneration.

Two patients, a woman in her early 60s and a man in his 80s, regained reading vision after being the first to receive retinal tissue engineered from stem cells.

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world, affecting more than 600,000 people in the UK. 

Wet age-related macular degeneration develops when abnormal blood vessels grow into the retinal pigment epithelium, which separates blood vessels from the nerve layer in the eye and nourishes the retina.

In this new approach, researchers supported by the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre used stem cells to ‘grow’ a perfect copy of the retinal pigment epithelium. This was then placed onto a patch and inserted 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 60-80 words per minute with normal reading glasses.

The research, published in Nature Biotechnology, is a major milestone for the London Project to Cure Blindness and could lead to an ‘off-the-shelf’ treatment within five years.

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