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Global First: UK NHS Doctors Restore Eyesight to the Blind With New Approach

CC0 / Pixabay / Eyes
Eyes - Sputnik International
British doctors have used stem cells to repair degenerating tissue in the eyes of two patients, successfully restoring impaired vision for the first time.

Doctors are hopeful that the new treatment can become affordable in the UK within the next five years. 

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As detailed in a recently published case study in Nature Biotechnology, the two patients suffered from macular degeneration, a common health condition that involves the deterioration of the retina and often leads to blindness.

The condition results in the degeneration of a layer of cells, called the retinal pigment epithelium, which are behind the light sensitive rods and cones that make up the retina of the eye. Those over the age of 50 have a significantly greater chance of contracting the disease, Sciencealert reported.

"In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn't see anything out of my right eye," 86-year-old Douglas Waters, one of the patients who received the ground-breaking therapy, told BBC. Although treatments for macular degeneration currently exist, they frequently involve painful and expensive injections into the eye.

Last year, Waters underwent surgery in which a patch of uniquely-designed embryonic engineered stem cells were placed into his retina. The patch of stem cells, just 40 microns thick and four by six millimeters wide, was designed to replicate cells in the retinal pigment epithelium and were layered with a synthetic compound to keep them in place. Another unidentified patient underwent the same surgery.

A follow-up 12 months after the procedure revealed that both patients saw vast improvements in their vision.

"It's brilliant what the team has done and I feel so lucky to have been given my sight back," Waters told BBC.

The surgeons plan to expand the procedure by testing it on eight other patients.

"We hope this will lead to an affordable 'off-the-shelf' therapy that could be made available to NHS patients within the next five years," ophthalmologist Pete Coffey from the University College London's Institute of Ophthalmology told BBC.

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