A ground-breaking new stem cell therapy has restored sight in the first two patients to receive it.
The outcome marks a huge step towards curing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in the UK and the third biggest cause worldwide.
Douglas Waters, one of the patients on the trial, told the BBC that 'in the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn't see anything out of my right eye', but that he 'can now read the newspaper' with it.
The trial, carried out at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, involved the surgical implantation of a patch of retinal cells into the back of the eye. The implanted retinal cells were derived from human embryonic stem cells and used to replace a degenerated layer of retinal pigment epithelium cells which normally support the light-sensing rod and cone cells of the eye. Not only did the patch of new retinal cells survive after being implanted, it also led to a dramatic improvement in vision.
Professor Pete Coffey, senior author of the paper, said: 'This study represents real progress in regenerative medicine. 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'. His team hopes that the new therapy will ultimately become as widespread and affordable as cataract surgery is now.
The two patients in this trial had the wet form of AMD, which accounts for roughly 10 percent of the 600,000 people with the condition in the UK. It is hoped that the new therapy will also prove effective for the more common dry form of AMD, which takes longer to develop and has no cure.