Macular degeneration is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp central vision, making it impossible to see faces, to read, or to drive. No therapy exists for the most common, or “dry”, form of the disease.
The cause of blindness in age-related macular degeneration is the death of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, which provide critical support of photoreceptor function and health. Replacing damaged RPE with healthy tissue derived from stem cells could prevent loss of vision.
Human and Social Costs
Major cause of blindness and visual impairment in older adults (>50 years).
Can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life.
Potential for Cures
Researchers have developed a way of maturing embryonic cells into retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells. They then surgically placed this layer of cells in the back of the eyes of rats that mimic macular degeneration. In early studies this therapy has been able to preserve the eyesight of the rats. grown on a matrix to form a single layer of cells like that found in the eye.
- In July 2011, two patients became the first people to be treated in FDA-approved clinical trials for a therapy derived from embryonic stem cells for dry age-related macular degeneration and Stargardt’s macular dystrophy. Advanced Cell Technology of Santa Monica, Calif., developed the treatment, which in rats and mice has prevented further vision loss without adverse side effects. (Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2011)