A trial is underway to test the use of embryonic stem cells as a treatment for the wet form of age-related macular degeneration, a conditional characterized by the structural damage and resulting blindness caused by excessive blood vessel growth into the retina:
Surgeons in London have carried out a pioneering human embryonic stem cell operation in an ongoing trial to find a cure for blindness for many patients. The procedure was performed on a woman aged 60 and involved "seeding" a tiny patch with specialised eye cells and implanting it at the back of the retina. The London Project to Cure Blindness was established a decade ago to try to reverse vision loss in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Ten patients with the wet form of AMD will undergo the procedure. All will have suffered a sudden loss of vision as a result of defective blood vessels in the eye. They will be monitored for a year to check that the treatment is safe and whether their vision improves.
The woman who was the patient had the operation last month. "We won't know until at least Christmas how good her vision is and how long that may be maintained, but we can see the cells are there under the retina where they should be and they appear to be healthy." The cells being used form the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) - the layer of cells that nourish and support the photoreceptors in the macula - the seeing part of the eye. "This is truly a regenerative project. In the past it's been impossible to replace lost neural cells. If we can deliver the very layer of cells that is missing and give them their function back this would be of enormous benefit to people with the sight-threatening condition".