Is a Treatment for Blindness within Sight?

U.K. doctors have used embryonic stem cells to restore sight to two patients who had lost their vision.

The leading cause of vision loss among older people is age-related macular degeneration.  The macula is the part of the eye that makes our vision sharp.  As we get older the macula can deteriorate, causing us to lose the ability to see faces, read or do close work.

Doctors at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital used embryonic stem cells to build a new retinal pigment epithelium.  (Embryonic stem cells are specialized cells that can develop into any type of cell in the human body.)  The RPE patch was then surgically implanted into one eye, where it could nourish and regenerate the macula.

The study used Dako proteins and antibodies to ensure the safety and purity of the RPE patch.  Dako is an Agilent subsidiary.

As a result of the surgery, the two patients – a man in his eighties and a woman in her sixties – have now maintained improved vision for a year.  The procedure is not a full cure, as it does not completely restore normal vision.  However, says lead researcher Prof. Lyndon da Cruz, “We’ve restored vision where there was none.”

The research is still in its early stages, with more clinical trials underway.

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