Future treatments for macular degeneration (AMD), Stargardt’s disease, and retinitis pigmentosa may include bone marrow stem cell injections, if a new line of eye research pans out. A preliminary pilot study on six subjects with one of several ischemic eye diseases found that most patients had vision improvement after receiving injections of their own bone marrow.
The purpose of the study was to find out if there were any adverse side effects and to test for vision improvement. The only significant negative side effect was some pain after bone marrow removal.
The study was too small to project how much improvement could be expected from this treatment. One patient, who had lost vision in both eyes but only received bone marrow in one, gained 55 letters on the vision chart, going from 20/800 to 20/63. The length of time to see improvement varied greatly, too.
Bone marrow in situ produces red blood cells. Bone marrow transplants, from one person to another, have been used for decades to treat severe cancers of the bone marrow. In this research, the patient’s own bone marrow was removed from one part of the body and introduced to another. Stem cells from bone marrow show promise for turning into neural cells — to treat neural diseases — and may offer hope to patients with inflammatory bowel disease. The idea that easily harvested bone marrow could improve vision is a line of research that may hold promise for macular degeneration (AMD), Stargardt’s disease, and retinitis pigmentosa patients.
Study: Park SS, Bauer G, Abedi M, et al. Intravitreal autologous bone marrow CD34ﬂ cell therapy for ischemic and degenerative retinal disorders: preliminary phase 1 clinical trial findings. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2015;56:81–89.