Amongst people aged 50 years+ AMD is the most common cause of visual deterioration. There are two types of AMD – Dry and Wet. Dry AMD is the most common cause (approx. 9/10 cases) and causes gradual visual deterioration. Wet AMD is less common (approx. 1/10 cases) but this can cause substantial deterioration of vision to occur within days if left untreated. AMD causes damage to the Macula which is a small spot near the centre of the retina, necessary for central vision, thus allowing us to see objects straight ahead. At present there are some treatments for AMD which aim to make the most of what remaining vision people have, but as there is currently no cure, by 2020 it is expected that approximately 700,000 people in the UK will have late-stage AMD.
Although there are no established cures for the disease, there have been a number of promising breakthroughs this year. One of the most promising advances is a stem cell trial that planned to have 10 people suffering from Wet AMD undergo a new procedure. It involves seeding a very small patch with specialised eye cells and then implanting this at the back of the retina. The cells which are used to form the implant are taken from a donated early embryo which has the ability to become any cell in the body at that stage. These cells are then used to form the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) which is the layer of cells that support and nourish the macula’s photoreceptors. In AMD the RPE cells die which causes the eye to lose its central vision function.
The individuals involved in the trial will all be monitored for a year post-procedure to see whether their vision improves and also if the procedure is safe. The procedure has already been carried out prior to the trial on a single patient and the first tangible results are expected to be evident around Christmas time this year, although current signs show that the implanted cells are in the correct place and looking healthy. The scientists behind the trial say that if the procedure is successful it would also help people suffering from Dry AMD and potentially put a stop to their vision deterioration.
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