Stem Cells Implantation- A Miracle Cure for Blindness

By Snigdha Taduri for

In a revolutionary experiment, British scientists have discovered a innovative treatment for curing the most common cause for blindness by using a line of patients own embryonic stem cells. Age related macular degeneration is the most common case of blindness in elderly, with at least 300,000 patients being affected every year- a number that is expected to treble in the next 25 years.

The London Project to Cure Blindness is the world’s first blindness therapy that involves replacing damaged retinal cells with stem cells which entailed injecting cells into the back of the eye to replaced damaged photoreceptors – tiny light-sensitive cells found in the retina and key to vision. The key step in the experiment was the selection of slightly more mature stem cells that turned into photoreceptors and formed connections with the nerves leading to the brain.

Most of the transplanted photoreceptors were rod cells that are responsible for vision in the night. It is believed that transplant of cone cells would help enhance viewing of colour and viewing detail. This transplant combination of rod and cone cells would provide an overall enhanced vision to patients.

This premise of this experiment is based on the belief that human retina houses cells that can be used for such transplants. This pioneering stem cell surgery, spearheaded by researchers at the world-famous Moorfields Eye Hospital in London plans to begin clinical trials on humans in two years.

Lyndon da Cruz, a surgeon at Moorfields says the surgery has the potential to become as commonplace as a cataract surgery in a few years time. Tom Bremridge, chief executive of the Macular Disease Society, said: “This is a huge step forward for patients. We are extremely pleased that the big guns have become involved, because, once this treatment is validated, it will be made available to a huge volume of patients.”

Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical research company, has announced its financial backing to bring the therapy to patients. Pfizer’s role would be crucial in bringing production of the membranes to an industrial level. Professor Coffey, the project leader for the London Project to Cure Blindness commented: “We have not only the benefit of Pfizer’s experience of the regulatory process and their expertise in stem cell technology but the ability, if this works, to produce on a much larger scale.  It has huge implications, not only for our project, but for the field of regenerative medicine as a whole.  And it is great that Britain is at the forefront of this research.”