Stem cells are the area of greatest potential in current medicine. They can turn into any tissue in the body and can therefore conceivably be used for treatment of countless diseases. Previous research and trials currently taking place use embryonic stem cells, however, their use is ethically controversial and carries the risk of rejection by a patient’s tissues. Of great interest is the developing technology in stem cells for macular degeneration.
OpRegen Stem Cell Technology Shows Promise for Macular Degeneration
Cell Cure Neurosciences in Jerusalem has developed a proprietary stem cell technology that may halt the progress of Age-Related Macular Degeneration. OpRegen1 is currently being tested on patients with the more advanced “wet” form of this disease. If it works out, the technique could ultimately be available to patients with the more common “dry” form of Macular Degeneration as well.
This eye disease affects approximately 2% of Americans age 50 and older. It especially strikes Caucasians, with 14% over age 80 affected.2 The macula at the back of the eye, responsible for central vision, gradually breaks down.
Retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells help the eye’s photoreceptor cells stay healthy and alive. RPEs nourish the photoreceptors with pigments and nutrients. They become less effective with age, starving the macula. Cells crucial to central vision die. Cell death is irreversible, but proper treatment (targeted supplements, diet and regular exercise) can play a key role in maintaining healthy vision.
Injecting Young Cells in the Macula
The new technology involves injecting human RPEs into the macula. The cells are made from pluripotent stem cells using a propriety technology. These cells are young and not susceptible to aging. Remaining healthy macular cells are saved, preserving vision and preventing further vision loss.
Preserving the fovea at the very center of the macula is especially important. When cells in this tiny spot die, the patient has difficulty with everyday tasks.
The clinical safety of this technique is the focus of current trials. The researchers won fast-track approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So trials for this Macular Degeneration treatment may begin soon in the United States. Animal studies have already proven that the cells can organize themselves. Other current research involves more elaborate surgery and special skills. However, OpRegen requires just one injection and uses skills that eye surgeons already have.
Pluripotent Stem Cells
A stem cell/macular degeneration trial used pluripotent stem cells, taken from the cells of the adult patients themselves. The process, for which Professor Shinya Yamanaka
shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012, coaxes samples of the patient’s own skin back to the stem cell state. The cells can be taken from any part of the body and be genetically modified to behave like an embryonic stem cell.
The risk of rejection by stem cells is low. This is because stem cells are derived from patient’s own body. There are also none of the ethical concerns present as there are with embryonic stem cells.
An initial six patients with age-related macular degeneration were part of a safety-evaluation pilot study. They received cell transplants with the hope that the treatment will restore their vision. The Riken Center for Developmental Biology and the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation Hospital in Kobe are conducting the trial.
Update, October, 2015:
The Riken Center reports that after a one year monitoring period the first transplant recipient shows very good results, with no signs of recurring extra blood vessels developing, and the health of the macula improved. There were no signs of other abnormalities such as rejection of the transplant or tumor development. The patient’s visual acuity has improved.
Learn more about vitamins and supplements to help your macula stay healthy.
Other Stem Cell Research for AMD
A team of scientists and surgeons from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London has developed a stem cell therapy to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of vision loss in the elderly.
The technology transforms embryonic stem cells into copies of damaged or missing cells. Doctors insert the cells into a membrane which is transplanted into the back of the retina.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer will fund the development of the therapy; UCL professor Pete Coffey, who led the research team, predicts the therapy will be available as part of a simple, one-hour procedure within six or seven years.The researchers are applying for approval to conduct a clinical trial on humans, the second-ever using embryonic stem cells. Laboratory trials completed by the British team have demonstrated that stem cells can prevent blindness in rats with a similar disease to AMD. They have also successfully tested elements of the technology in pigs.
Editor’s Note: Eye disease is not an inevitable part of the aging process. Lifetime good nutrition helps supply the macula with crucial nutrients. The macula is composed partially of lutein and zeaxanthin. A balanced diet contains these antioxidants. This is a diet that is rich in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables. As we age, our ability to absorb nutrients decreases. Nutritional supplementation and daily exercise are very important for seniors in maintaining healthy vision.