Stem cell therapies for eye diseases

Stem cell treatment is a promising therapy that is already being used successfully for many diseases. Now this method is also being used in the treatment of special forms of blindness as well as age-related visual disorders. With great chances of a cure, as initial results suggest.

This therapy was developed by Italian researchers who began treating eye diseases with stem cells as early as 1990. The procedure involves harvesting stem cells from the eye, which are located in the limbus – between the iris and the adjacent connective tie. The researchers multiply the cells in the laboratory and use them to grow a new cornea to replace destroyed tie, which is then transplanted into the patient's eye. This form of stem cell therapy is intended to remove opacities from the cornea. Thus, patients have been given back their vision. The target group is primarily patients who have lost their vision as a result of burns or chemical burns.

In cases of burns, treatment must be started urgently, otherwise the patient's vision may be completely lost. In a study, Italian researchers were able to restore full vision in 81 out of 106 patients who received treatment. The results remain stable for years.

Although the medical scope of this new therapy has been recognized by the health authorities, the market launch was not easy for a small company Holostem, which was registered as early as 2008. Only in February 2015, the first commercial stem cell therapy Holoclar® in Europe was approved by the health authorities. There must be at least one intact limbus (transition zone between the cornea and the retina)-. sclera of the eyeball) for the extraction of the stem cells.

What is macular degeneration?

Half of all visual impairments in industrialized countries are caused by macular degeneration. People over the age of 50 are most often affected here, which is why the disease is also often called age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The central field of vision deteriorates, while the peripheral field of vision remains undamaged.

Basically, there are two types of the disease – wet and dry macular degeneration. In wet macular degeneration, the walls of the vessels allow fluid and blood to pass through, leading to swelling of the center of the retina. In this way, the sensitive sensory cells of the macula are destroyed. In the more common dry form, there is a defect or thinning of a retinal layer, the retinal pigment epithelium. For the dry form there are no effective therapy methods at present.

When excess products of metabolism in the retina can no longer be completely eliminated, the supply of new nutrients to the macular cells is disrupted. As a result, the healthy photoreceptor cells gradually die, leading to the formation of deposits under the retina.

Stem cell therapy

Ten years ago, London's UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) began developing a method of stem cell treatment for wet AMD.

The procedure consists of obtaining eye cells (retinal pigment epithelium) from embryonic stem cells, which are then inserted in the place of the affected cells in the eye and prevent the death of light-sensitive sensory cells. In August 2015, the first operation of this kind, which lasted about two hours, was successfully carried out. So far, no complications have been detected in patients.

Researchers see cell transplantation as a good chance for people suffering from wet macular degeneration. A study planned for this year by researchers in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer will involve ten people who will be followed for a year after surgery to further explore the safety and efficacy of this newly developed treatment method.

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