Surgeons in London have carried out a pioneering human embryonic stem cell operation in an ongoing trial to find a cure for age-related macular degeneration.
This first operation is a major milestone in the London Project to Cure Blindness, which was established 10 years ago with the aim of curing vision loss in patients with wet AMD.
In 2007 Professor Pete Coffey, of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, who is co-leading the London Project and spoke at the Society's conference at the weekend, approached the Macular Society for urgent funding. The Society later raised £100,000 towards the research.
The first surgery was successfully performed on a 60-year-old woman last month and there have been no complications to date. The team hope to determine her outcome in terms of initial visual recovery by early December.
The trial is investigating the safety and efficacy of transplanting eye cells (retinal pigment epithelium) derived from stem cells to treat people with sudden severe visual loss from wet AMD. These cells are used to replace those at the back of the eye that are diseased in AMD.
This is done using a specially engineered patch inserted behind the retina in an operation lasting one to two hours.
The trial will recruit 10 patients in total over a period of 18 months to undergo the procedure.
Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Society, said: “Although the project has taken longer than the five years originally forecast, we are delighted that the first patient has been treated and that the £100,000 raised by the Society has contributed to this important development.
“This is a major step in the progress towards a cure for this distressing condition.
“We are extremely proud to have supported this exciting project; however, it is not yet known if this will meet the needs of the thousands of people affected by wet age-related macular degeneration.
“The Society is urgently campaigning for more funding for macular research because our ageing society means many more people are developing the condition.”
Professor Coffey added: “We are tremendously pleased to have reached this stage in the research for a new therapeutic approach. Although we recognise 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.”
To view an interview with our Chief Executive, Cathy Yelf, which was broadcast on the BBC News channel, click here.