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Eye-opening Macular Degeneration Stem Cell

12 March 2020 Written by
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A new macular degeneration stem cell transplant might help preserve or even restore vision being lost to the dry form of age-related macular degeneration, a new pilot clinical trial has shown. Age-related macular degeneration currently affects approximately 1.7 million Americans, and is projected to affect almost 3 million by 2020, affecting between 30 million and 50 million people worldwide.

Age-related macular degeneration stem cell are stem cells working on the Retina by providing new Retina cells. The retina, the light-sensitive tissue along the back of the eye wall is slowly destroyed as a result of AMD. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye condition that affects the macula, which is the central part of the retina found across the back of the eyeball.

As the name suggests, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is most common in people over 60, and more people are suffering from AMD as the population ages. About 90 percent of AMD cases are dry AMD, for which there is no good treatment today.

What is macular degeneration?

Definitions

Retinal Pigmented Epithelium (RPE) - a layer of cells that protects and nourishes the retina, removes waste products, prevents new blood vessel growth into the retinal layer and absorbs light not absorbed by the photoreceptor cells; these actions prevent the scattering of the light and enhance clarity of vision.

Photoreceptors - the light sensing nerve cells (rods and cones) located in the retina.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a problem with your retina. It happens when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged. The retina is the nerve tissue lining the inside of the eye that starts the conversion of light into vision. At the center, in the back of the retina, is the macula, a small area about 5.5 millimeters in diameter that is responsible for central vision, which is essential for tasks such as reading, driving and facial recognition. The macula is densely packed with photoreceptor(see definition) cells called rods and cones that react to light and send electrical nerve impulses to the optic nerve and into the brain. Behind the photoreceptors is another layer of cells called retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)(see definition), which support the rods and cones by delivering nutrients from the bloodstream and removing waste that the rods and cones generate. Now in AMD, the RPE cells stop performing their support functions and the rods and cones die, resulting in a loss of central vision. Without healthy RPE cells the photoreceptor cells are damaged or die.

So basically the take away here is the fact that, Photoreceptors or Rods and cones enable us to see in day or night and Retinal Pigment Epithelial or RPE cells nourish the rods and cones, and when this does not happen central vision is lost.

So with AMD you lose your central vision. You cannot see fine details, whether you are looking at something close or far. But your peripheral (side) vision will still be normal. For instance, imagine you are looking at a clock with hands. With AMD, you might see the clock’s numbers but not the hands.

Dry and Wet AMD

AMD is usually described as being dry or wet. Dry AMD, is the most common and less severe form and means that there is a gradual degeneration of the retinal cells. About 80% (8 out of 10) of people who have AMD have the dry form. Dry AMD is when parts of the macula get thinner with age and tiny clumps of protein called drusen grow. It may or may not lead to complete visual loss. You slowly lose central vision. Whereas Wet AMD the more severe form, involves abnormal blood vessels growing within the retina (in an attempt to try and supply blood to the damaged macula). These abnormal vessels are fragile and can swell and bleed into the eye causing considerable damage to the macula and loss of vision over a comparatively short space of time. You lose vision faster with wet AMD than with dry AMD. Many people don’t realize they have AMD until their vision is very blurry.

Rods and Cones

Stem cell research is helping scientists understand how the different cell types in the retina function together, which has led to exploring ways to replace both rods and cones and the supporting RPE cells.

Replacing rods and cones is challenging, because these cells have to establish connections with nerve fibers that feed signals into the optic nerve, which sends those signals to the brain to interpret. Researchers are actively working on this approach, but ensuring new rods and cones integrate properly with nerve fibers alongside the patient’s existing rods and cones is extremely complex.

Special Attributes of the Eye

The eye is a good target for stem cell treatments. It is relatively self-contained, with many barriers that keep cells from migrating to other parts of the body. It is easy to assess the effectiveness of treatments in the eye because researchers have tools for viewing the eye’s interior and for measuring its visual function. They are also able to compare results from a treated eye to an untreated eye in the same patient.

What is the potential for stem cells to treat macular degeneration?

Stem cell researchers are making great progress in their efforts to replace the RPE layer, which they believe will halt or even reverse the vision loss associated with AMD.

The concept is that stem cells are “undifferentiated,” meaning that they have the potential to develop into many different cell types, including retinal cells, which can then replace cells that have died due to AMD. The two major cell types that die in AMD are retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells and photoreceptors.

Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, promotes the repair response of diseased, dysfunctional or injured tissue using stem cells or their derivatives. Therefore repairing the dying retinal cells.

In summary, there is much excitement about the potential for stem cell transplantation in AMD, and this approach has a reasonable chance of helping patients with wet AMD or advanced dry (geographic atrophy) AMD at some point in the future.

Stem-Cell Testimonial

Doctors have taken a major step towards curing the most common form of blindness in the UK - age-related macular degeneration.

Douglas Waters, 86, could not see out of his right eye, but can now read the newspaper with it, he says. He was one of two patients given pioneering stem cell therapy at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Cells from a human embryo were grown into a patch that was delicately inserted into the back of the eye.

Douglas, who is from London, Couldn't see anything and had developed severe age-related macular degeneration in his right eye three years back.

He says:

In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn't see anything out of my right eye. It's brilliant what the team have done and I feel so lucky to have been given my sight back.

In the experimental therapy, a specially engineered sheet of stem cells is transplanted into the back wall of the eye to replace a layer of cells destroyed by age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

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