Could skin cell injection reverse sight loss?

An injection of stem cells created from a patient’s own skin could be the answer to dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD). There’s currently no treatment for the condition that sees around 250,000 people in the UK living with severe problems with their vision.

Dry AMD is among the leading causes of sight loss and occurs when the macula becomes damaged. This is a crucial part of the retina found at the back of the eye that is responsible for sharp and central vision. Living with the condition can be challenging and lead to a loss of independence.

Now, scientists from the Belarusian State Medical University are undertaking a trial to see if stem cells taken from an individual’s skin or bone marrow could help to improve the condition. It’s thought these new cells could replace those that have been lost or damaged.

Some 20 people are taking part in the trial to see if their sight loss could return. Many people with dry AMD can see the outline of a clock but not the time it's showing and have issues recognising faces, because they can only see the peripherals.

The first signs of AMD are usually picked up during a routine eye exam, with the condition occurring in those in their 50s or 60s. Of the two forms of AMD - dry and wet - dry is the most common and is caused by light processing cells being lost.

While wet AMD can be treated, those with the dry form are left using magnifying glasses to try and get by. But taking master cells from another part of the body and growing them into retina cells could spell hope for those with the condition.

Taking just half an hour to administer once the stem cells have been grown in the lab, the intravitreal injection is a one-off treatment. Patients are giving numbing drops before the procedure to inject the solution at the back of the eye, making it pain-free.

Once in situ, the stem cells are expected to grow into new retinal cells to replace those that have degenerated. Using skin cells or bone marrow from the patient is thought to decrease the risk of complications or rejection.

Gwyn Williams, a consultant ophthalmologist at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, told MailOnline: “Dry AMD is by far the greatest cause of certification for sight impairment in the UK; a situation that is only going to get worse with our ageing population.

“This research is interesting, but we should be cautious as there have been several false dawns in the past with stem cells. They have so far failed to prove discernible benefits, as well as carrying significant risks.”

Photo credit: Pixabay/Mirko Sajkov

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