Israeli researchers use stem cells to treat age-related blindness
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Israeli researchers use stem cells to treat age-related blindness

Initial clinical trials show new therapy could treat macular degeneration, helping millions to keep their sight

Illustrative photo of an eye (CC BY Samuel Johnson/Flickr)
Illustrative photo of an eye (CC BY Samuel Johnson/Flickr)

Israeli researchers say they have developed a promising stem-cell therapy to treat age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, potentially saving the sight of millions of people.

Jerusalem-based Cell Cure Neurosciences reports that its OpRegen therapy infusion has shown encouraging potential in the first phase of its clinical trials.

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in people over 60, and is estimated to affect 11 million people in the US in various forms, asserts the Bright Focus Foundation’s fact sheet.

In a healthy retina, one layer of retinal pigment epithelial cells functions to help support nutrition to photoreceptors, cells that process light to provide vision. When the RPE cells deteriorate in people with macular degeneration, photoreceptors lose their support system and deteriorate, ultimately leading to blindness.

The Israeli firm’s therapy involves an injection of RPE cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, underneath the patient’s retina.

Dr. Eyal Banin, one of the lead developers of the technology and director of degenerative diseases at the Retina Center at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, believes that the OpRegen infusion will replace the patient’s dysfunctional RPE cells.

It also may help support the remaining healthy cells.

“The biggest advantage of this type of therapy may be its communication with the surrounding cells and environment,” he said. “This two-way interaction may help these remaining cells to survive and function properly.”

Based on the encouraging results of the first phase, the researchers will move on to a second trial in which new patients will receive an upped dose. The news was announced via the Columbia, Maryland-based Foundation Fighting Blindness, which provides funding and pre-clinical research for the trials.

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