Simple operation to cure blindness could be available in just six years

By Daniel Bates
Last updated at 11:39 AM on 20th April 2009

Guide dog

In sight: Stem cells could offer a cure for blindness in the elderly

A simple 45-minute operation being developed by British scientists could cure blindness in millions of people around the world.

The revolutionary procedures could take place in six years and could be as commonplace as cataract surgery in less than a decade.

The improvement is likely to be great enough to transform lives, allowing the blind to regain the ability to carry out everyday tasks such as reading or driving.

The pioneering stem cell surgery, being spearheaded by researchers at the world-famous Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, tackles age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in the elderly.

There are about 500,000 sufferers in this country and the number is expected to treble in the next 25 years.

AMD, which affects a quarter of over-60s in the UK and more than half of over-75s to some degree, occurs in two forms. While the ‘wet’ form can be combated with drugs, there is no treatment for the ‘dry’ form which accounts for 90 per cent of cases.

The new treatment centres on human embryonic stem cells grown in a laboratory.

These are ‘blank’ cells with the power to turn into different cell types and are used to create small patches identical to the cells damaged in the eyes of AMD sufferers.

Packaged into a syringe, the patch is injected into the back of the eye where it replaces damaged cells and restores sight.

The technique has been successfully trialled on rats and pigs and human trials will begin within two years.

Along with doctors at Moorfields Eye Hospital, researchers at University College London, also in London are involved in the London Project to Cure Blindness.

The project is led by Professor Pete Coffey who is working alongside Lyndon da Cruz, a surgeon at Moorfields.

Professor Coffey said: ‘There are about half a million people in the UK at this moment would qualify for the treatment – about 25 per cent of the population aged over 65.’

He explained that the treatment would take ‘less than an hour, so it really could be considered as an outpatient procedure. We are trying to get it out as a common therapy’.

Professor Peng Khaw, director of the Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, added: ‘This shows that stem cell therapy is coming of age. It offers great hope for many sufferers around the world who cannot be treated with conventional treatment.’

Mr da Cruz has previously said it was feasible to do the procedure under local anaesthetic in 45 minutes and that within ten years the procedure could become as commonplace as cataract surgery.

Although many believe it is wrong to use embryonic stem cells – plucked from an embryo in the first days of life – in medicine, sophisticated laboratory techniques mean it should be possible to generate a treatment for millions of people from cells derived from a single embryo.

Stem cell research offers hope for treating and curing a host of conditions.

British experts have succeeded in growing a ‘mini liver’ – a tiny bundle of liver cells – from stem cells, while Israeli scientists have grown a tiny section of beating heart tissue from stem cells gleaned from human embryos.


No Responses to “Simple operation to cure blindness could be available in just six years”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: