Milestone in Stem Cell Transplant Therapy for Advanced Age-Related Macular Degeneration

MAY 03, 2016
Ellen Kurek
The advanced stage of the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the chief causes of blindness in the Western world. At this stage, dry AMD causes photoreceptor cells in the retina to degenerate, which results in patches throughout the retina that are missing photoreceptor cells. This degenerative process is termed geographic atrophy, or GA.
Photoreceptor cells form the retinal layers that gather light and send images to the brain. Once they are lost, the eye cannot replace them. Areas of missing photoreceptor cells in the retina cause a black spot to appear in the visual field. In advanced dry AMD, this vision-destroying degenerative process typically progresses relentlessly through the central macula, which detects fine details, and causes significant impairment of vision and quality of life.
Although GA has no treatment, a number of promising approaches are being developed. One is the transplantation into the retina of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESC).
Like loss of photoreceptor cells, loss of RPE cells leads to vision loss in advanced AMD. RPE cells lie in a layer just outside the retina and have many important functions that support photoreceptor cells. This week, Sandra Petrus-Reurer, a PhD candidate at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, reported the first evidence in a large-eye animal model of GA that, once hESC-derived RPE cells are transplanted, they can integrate within the recipient eye and engage in important functions that support photoreceptor cells.

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