Remedy in sight: Groundbreaking stem cell op ‘could cure blindness’

© Leonhard Foeger
British surgeons may have cured a 60-year-old pensioner’s blindness after carrying out a stem cell operation. The procedure is aimed at repairing visual impairment in millions of people, it has been revealed.

The patient, who had almost total vision loss caused by age-related macular degeneration (AMD), has so far had no further complications since the operation at Moorfields Eye Hospital last month.

The surgery involves taking a single stem cell from an embryo and growing it into a patch of cells that can be transplanted into the eye.

Surgeons say they hope to determine how successful the treatment has been by early December, as the 60-year-old patient’s eye has been filled with oil to help the patch heal.

The pensioner, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is one of 10 patients participating in the pioneering trial.

Professor Lyndon Da Cruz, who carried out the operation, said the surgery could be an “enormous benefit” for AMD patients who are at risk of losing their sight permanently.

This is truly a regenerative project. In the past it’s been impossible to replace lost neural cells,” he told BBC News.

If we can deliver the very layer of cells that is missing and give them their function back this would be of enormous benefit to people with the sight-threatening condition,” he added.

Experts are determined to reverse vision loss in people diagnosed with AMD, an eye condition which affects a quarter of over 60s and more than half of over 75 year olds in Britain. It is the leading cause of sight loss in the world.

This possible cure could enable AMD patients to see and recognize their loved ones again. It would also allow them to engage in daily tasks such as reading and driving.

Professor Pete Coffey of University College London said he hopes “many patients will benefit” from the treatment in the future.

Although we recognize this clinical trial focuses on a small group of AMD patients who have experienced sudden severe visual loss, we hope that many patients may benefit in the future,” he told Sky News.

If the treatment is successful, experts say it would help patients in the early stages of AMD by possibly halting their vision loss.

It is not yet known how much the surgical treatment will cost, but scientists have stressed that dealing with sight loss is a huge burden on the NHS.

Clara Eaglen of the Royal National Institute of Blind People said: “We are hopeful that stem cell technology will significantly change the way in which people with sight loss are treated over the next decade.

It is early days yet but this development does show that stem cells can be successfully transplanted into the eye, which is a great step forward,” she said in a statement.