Updated on 17 October 2014
Dr Robert Lanza explained that his team had devised a process that could convert stem cells into retinal epithelial cells
Singapore: Researchers at the Advanced Cell Technology have provided the first evidence that suggests the use of embryonic stem cells as an effective source to correct two major eye problems that occur with age-macular degeneration, the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 60, and Stargardt's macular dystrophy, a rarer, inherited condition that results in early blindness.
The study is published in the journal Lancet. As part of the research, 18 patients with either disorder have received transplants of retinal epithelial cells (RPE) made from stem cells that came from human embryos. Lead scientist, Dr Robert Lanza, explained that his team had devised a process that could convert stem cells into RPE.
In patients with macular degeneration, there is deterioration of retinal epithelial cells and nerves, leading to gradual vision loss. The transplants of RPE cells were injected directly into the space in front of the retina of each patient's most damaged eye.
Mr Lanza said, "The new RPEs cannot reconstruct the damaged nerves of the eye but can prevent the existing nerves from getting damaged and make them function properly." Health experts have expressed concern stating that the stem cells used in the procedure are not matched for compatibility. They also said that as stem cells can proliferate into any cell type in the body, the risk of tumors and immune rejection are also high in this procedure.