We have covered the pursuit for the cure to blindness a great deal at The Optimist Daily. The research and development around retinal implants and gene therapy for blind people is eclectic and ever-growing. Scientists have developed methods in gene editing and even using algae to help people see again that we think are amazing.
Researchers from UC Santa Barbara have now developed a stem-cell patch to help those with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the leading causes of blindness in the world.
All our cells diminish and degenerate with age. This is no different with the eye’s macula, the retinal component responsible for forwarding vision. Starting around age 50, many people experience a diminishing of the macula and have trouble looking straight ahead.
Researchers with the California Project to Cure Blindness with the University of California Santa Barbara have made promising progress using a monolayer of stem cells placed on the retinas of individuals with AMD. The hope is that the implant would slow down or stop macular deterioration and loss of vision by replacing cells that no longer function. The best possible outcome is that the implant restores lost vision. The California Project to Cure Blindness–Retinal Pigment Epithelium 1 (CPCB-RPE1) was placed on individuals’ diminishing retinas, taking the test through the first stages of clinical trials.
Promising first results
Most of the 15 patients of the first test group experienced positive results. Four had improved vision in their tested eye, and five had their vision stabilized. Vision in the remaining six continued to experience deteriorating vision, and researchers are looking into the reason why.
The first trials were meant to establish if the stem cell patch was safe. While that has been established, with what were some very promising first results, there were other things that need to be figured out. The researchers needed to wait and see how the stem cell patch performs longer term.
Can the implant give lasting results?
Implants can usually run into issues like an increased immune response at the implant site, excess growth of scar tissue or blood vessels, or that the stem cells move or no longer maintain their function.
The team followed up on their results, and in the two years after the implantation found no negative signs in their patients.
“What really makes us excited is that there is some strong evidence to show that the cells are still there two years after implantation and they’re still functional,” says study coauthor Mohamed Faynus. “This is pretty important, because if the goal is to treat blindness, we want to make sure that the retinal pigment epithelium cells that we put in there are still doing the job they’re supposed to.”
Source Study: Visionary Progress | The UCSB Current