Stem cell treatment gives patients their sight back

Two people who were going blind have gained much of their sight back, after taking part in a clinical trial using stem cell treatment.

The stem cells in the experiment targeted severe macular degeneration. Stem cells can regenerate and become any cell in the body, so researchers created a new “patch” of retinal pigment epithelium – found behind the macula – using stem cells. The stem cell patch was then implanted into the patients’ eyes. In both patients, this experiment appears to have reversed the process of sight loss.

One of the patients, Douglas Waters, 86, was completely blind in his right eye. After the stem cell treatment he told the BBC, “I can now read the newspaper.”

It has now been one year since the stem cell treatment took place. Both Mr Waters and another woman in her 60s have maintained a better quality of vision.

Age-related macular degeneration causes damage to a part of the eye called the macula. It allows us to see things straight in front of us, and is essential for daily tasks like reading and driving. Macular degeneration is a common type of vision loss in people aged 50 and over.

Further research is needed to confirm the safety of this stem cell treatment and so far it can only be used in cases of “wet” macular degeneration, where the macula is damaged by the growth of abnormal blood vessels. However, researchers and doctors in the US have recorded encouraging results in a similar clinical trial treating dry macular degeneration using stem cell implants.

The study was published on 19th March in the Nature Biotechnology journal.