Pioneering stem cell treatment offers hope to people with AMD

Charitable support has played a key role in pioneering a stem cell trial aiming to restore sight for people with Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

AMD affects more than 600,000 people in the UK and is the leading cause of sight loss in the developed world. Now, a new procedure developed by the London Project to Cure Blindness offers hope that we may be close to identifying a treatment for the debilitating condition.

The procedure marks a major milestone in a decade long research programme into using stem cells to replace existing cells in the eye that are damaged or missing. The London Project has successfully transformed stem cells into retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, the main cells affected by AMD.

In a ground-breaking operation in August 2015, Professor Lyndon da Cruz, consultant retinal surgeon, was successfully able to transplant those cells into the eye of a 60-year old female patient, using a specially engineered patch to insert them behind the retina.

The treatment is specifically to target “wet” AMD, which develops when abnormal blood vessels form underneath the macula and damage its cells. The condition can be triggered by “dry” AMD, caused when the macula becomes damaged by a build-up of deposits called drusen. An estimated 1 in 10 people with dry AMD go on to develop wet AMD.

The London Project is based at Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, and is led by Professors Pete Coffey and Lyndon da Cruz. 

While the outcome of the initial operation is expected to be known until at least summer this year, early indications are very positive. Professor Coffey said: "We don’t yet know 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 London Project will now carry out the operation on a further 9 patients specially recruited for this trial. While the trial is not open to volunteers at this stage due to strict criteria and ethical guidelines, it offers real potential that people with AMD will benefit in the future from the transplantation of these cells.