Arrow Left Go back to previous page Back to News

How stem cells can cure sight loss


Slowly but surely, long-term incurable diseases are being sought out by scientists as a target to be treated by stem cell research. As positive recent noises from regenerative medicine will have no doubt made you aware, a lot of previously untreatable afflictions are now thought to be within reach of a breakthrough. One such case is age-related macular degeneration, where the central vision of each eye is lost as those suffering with it get older.

This is a serious problem that affects the ability of many to do basic daily things they take for granted, such as reading or driving. It has also been reported that some people that are affected even have trouble recognising the faces of those they love.

Thankfully, modern medicine is developing at such a pace that new research developments around embryonic stem cells have allowed for clinical studies and trials beyond just the initial stage, with a woman in the UK being the first to receive the treatment in the second half of 2015. Initial reports are positive, as they have been in the US where trials and assessments have been continuing since 2012.

The way this works is to target the retinal pigment epithelium, which is the cell layer just outside of the retina that nourishes the retinal visual cells that help you to see. By transplanting this epithelium layer with human embryonic stem cells, it is possible to regenerate this cell layer and allow it to start replenishing the retinal visual cells that are causing the problems with sight to those affected.

Controlled implementation of these embryonic stem cells to the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) resulted in a 99% pure RPE layer, displaying typical behaviour of traditional working cells and integrating into the host cell layer. These trials saw no abnormal growth or behaviour, nor did they see any rejection of the transplants from the immune system.

One study showed that in the four months after the initial trials, no ill effects were found, and neither patient tested in one case showed any loss or worsening of vision. In fact, eye examinations performed afterwards suggested a marked improvement in basic function, such as being able to make out more of the letters in a standard exam you would get at the opticians where the letters become smaller in each row, as well as an increase in recognising hand motions.

This serious advance in stem cell technology is now allowing researchers and developers to focus on targeting the disease as early as possible, which greatly increases the chance of saving entire central vision rather than just rescuing it partially.

Many companies, including market leaders such as BioEden, are offering the chance to have tooth stem cells (rather than complicated extraction from bone marrow) stored from when you are young to be cryogenically preserved for future use. With the amount of ground-breaking developments that are emerging, it is turning out to be more and more of a smart decision to have your stem cells stored for whenever you might need them most.