They Couldn't Even See a Book. Then Their Eyes Got a 'Patch'

2 elderly patients with age-related macular degeneration regain vision using stem cells
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2018 11:20 AM CDT
Progress on the eyesight front?   (Getty Images/ClarkandCompany)

(Newser) – A new breakthrough on the stem cell front, and this time it affects the eyes. The Guardian reports that two patients with age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of blindness, got back enough of their vision so they could make out individual faces and once again read; they couldn't even see a book in front of them before their surgeries. The study documenting their cases, published in the Nature Biotechnology journal, notes that scientists from the London Project to Cure Blindness set out to treat patients with the "wet" version of AMD—meaning blood spilling out from broken vessels damaged a critical part of their retinas necessary for good vision. The patients would receive an implanted "patch" over the damaged part of their eyes, made out of a membrane of human embryonic stem cells.

The first two patients, a woman in her 60s and an 86-year-old man, have received the patch, and scientists call the results "astounding." Using lines on a reading chart as a gauge, researchers crossed their fingers that each patient would have vision recovery of three lines. The woman regained six lines, the man five. Before the surgery, "at best [the woman] could read about one word a minute with magnification," study co-author Peter Coffey says. "She is now reading 80 words a minute and [the man] is reading 50." Researchers want to put at least one more patient on the operating table to test safety and efficacy. They hope the procedure will be as routine as regular cataract surgery and available within five years. (These patients didn't fare as well with stem cell therapy.)

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