A UK patient has undergone pioneering treatment in an attempt to have her sight saved with experimental stem cell surgery.
The woman, suffering from age-related macular degeneration, had retinal pigment epithelium eye cells derived from stem cells inserted behind the retina, forming a patch. This looks to restore the support cells which help remove the daily build up of dirt in the eye which are lost in macular degeneration, causing a toxic environment to form. The first of 10 patients to receive the treatment over the next 18 months, if successful it could pave the way for saving the sight of hundreds of thousands of UK residents suffering from the disease.
The surgery is a breakthrough moment in the 10-year old London Project to Cure Blindness, a collaboration between Moorfields Eye Hospital (which carried out the procedure) the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and the National Institute for Health Research.
Macular degeneration comes in two forms, both "wet" and "dry", with the vast majority of the UK's 700,000 suffers affected by the "dry" form. While the treatment currently is intended to aid the more serious "wet" form of the disease, it's thought that in time it can be adapted to combat the other more prevalent form, too.
Though the surgery includes a relatively brief procedure, taking between 45 and 60 minutes, it won't be before December until doctors can assess whether or not this initial patient's treatment has been a success. If all goes well, the stem cell cure will go to a regulatory review board to trial its safety and efficacy. US drug company Pfizer is already backing the treatment, and would likely act as a commercial partner if the treatment were to eventually be offered en masse.