By Michael Hutton
Vision correction treatment based on stem cell therapy for the many millions of people who suffer from dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) may soon be a practical proposition following successful trials undertaken by the Israeli company CellCure Neurosciences. Dry AMD affects the ability to see fine details and as explained by CEO Charles Irving, "those who are unfortunate enough to have this disease cannot read, drive, or see the faces of their grandchildren." The innovative treatment involves replacing diseased cells with fresh new ones and would not just improve deteriorating eyesight - for those who undertake the treatment it will feel as if they have a new set of eyes.
Dry AMD begins in the retina when retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells begin to die. RPE cells are caretakers of the photo-receptors - the cells in the retina that enable the eye to see light and dark. Currently there is no drug treatment for this disease, which typically progresses gradually over time and is the main cause of visual impairment in people over 50. Researchers at the Hadassah Macular Degeneration Unit in Jerusalem found a method of converting human embryonic stem cells into RPE cells which can be transplanted into the patient's eye. Transplants performed on animal models with AMD showed that the new RPE cells could protect the cells in the retina from degenerating and once the old cells were replaced, the progress of the disease halted thus rescuing the retina from the disease and offering sufferers the prospect of an effective vision correction treatment.
CellCure plan to take this technology together with clinical grade embryonic stem cells and create a clinical grade RPE cell product which can be used in clinical trials and commercialised. Already, Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries has invested $2m and signed an option to licence this technology from CellCure and will oversee clinical studies of the product development programme once the Company has succeeded in securing FDA approval to begin clinical trials. As Irving notes, "the simplicity of this application of stem cell technology makes it the number one leading clinical application of human embryonic stem cells." says Irving. So for the over 50s who face a number of challenges in preserving their eye health, this vision correction therapy may provide real hope for treating this serious sight-threatening condition.
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