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MACULAR DEGENERATION: Stem cells have promised a lot but...

Eye Practice
MACULAR DEGENERATION: Stem cells have promised a lot but...

Macular Degeneration is a huge concern because it is the leading cause of blindness in an aging population over the age of 50.  The problem is that this age bracket is increasing dramatically in numbers and no cure exists.

Macular Degeneration comes in two forms: Dry and Wet.  

Most of the current research has been directed towards the Wet form, as even though it represents only 10% of the macular degeneration patients, it causes significantly more severe vision loss.  If one has the wet form of macular degeneration, the best drugs to treat this are called anti-VEGFs.  These drugs currently have to be injected into the eye as often as every month.

More and more research has been directed towards the inconvenience and significant cost of having to front up every month to try and preserve vision.

So what about the Dry form of macular degeneration?

Even though Dry Macular Degeneration usually does not lead to severe vision loss like the Wet form it is still responsible for significant problems in some people.  As Dry Macular Degeneration progresses it can develop into a condition called Geographic Atrophy (with associated vision loss) or it can progress to the Wet Form and its associated problems.

Bottom line, currently other than recommending weight loss, cessation of smoking, better diet, exercise and specific vitamin and antioxidant supplements Dry Macular degeneration runs its course.  Maybe by implementing the above interventions we are able to slow the process down.

It seems though that we have stem cell options that are being developed.  Dry Macular Degeneration as it progresses destroys a layer of the retina called the Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE).  It makes sense that if we could transplant a new Retinal Pigment Epithelium layer, maybe the macula could be regenerated again and prolong vision.

Japanese researchers have transformed skin stem cells into retinal pigment epithelium eye cells in a mouse.  To date they have successfully transplanted this tissue into 100 mice with no apparent rejection.  Another very dangerous side effect of stem cell transformation is the possible production of tumours.  Apparently in these mice there have been no tumours, so human trials are likely to begin within 3 years.


The above image is a group of stem cells that can be caused to differentiate into RPE cells for the macula.

The human stem cell experiments that are likely to begin in a few years for macular degeneration will firstly be safety trials.  They are likely to be performed on blind eyes that have no visual potential.  This is done so that if unexpected outcomes occur, at least the eyes were blind anyway.

What is always a little scary is that if tumours are formed, could they possibly spread to the rest of the body.  Where the person only had an eye problem, now could possibly be risking their life!

Progression in science occasionally comes with significant risk.  Unless these risks are taken science could not possibly progress.  Further information can be found about these macular degeneration experiments by CLICKING HERE.

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