Two patients in the UK with advanced cases of age-related macular degeneration regained enough vision to be able to read again thanks to a new stem-cell therapy.
Both patients were losing their sight so severely that they could no longer see a book, let alone read the words on its pages. But both received a “patch” of stem cells over the damaged area at the back of their eyes, dramatically reversing the condition’s effects.
“The first patient has got six lines (of a vision test chart) improvement, which is astounding, and the second has five lines and he seems to be getting better as the months go by,” London Project to Cure Blindness doctor and professor, Pete Coffey, told The Guardian. “They are both really reading. At best (the woman) could read about one word a minute with magnification. She is now reading 80 words a minute and (the man) is reading 50.”
The project’s doctors anticipate that the procedure may one day be as common as cataract surgery, and could help the nearly 700,000 UK citizens suffering from AMD.
As many as 11 million people in the U.S. have some form of age-related macular degeneration.
The patients — a woman in her 60s and a man in his 80s — would have each have soon gone blind from AMD due to leaking blood vessels, according to the research team. But the patches, which consisted of a membrane covered with human embryonic stem cells designed to replicate the retinal pigment epithelial cells destroyed by the disease, were able to cure them.
“In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye,” the male patient, Douglas Waters, said. “I was struggling to see things clearly, even when up close. After the surgery my eyesight improved to the point where I can now read the newspaper and help my wife out with the gardening. It’s brilliant what the team have done and I feel so lucky to have been given my sight back.”
The researchers are hoping to have a product available for eye surgeons to replicate this procedure within five years.