Attempts to cure blindness have moved one stage further, following a pioneering stem cell operation to restore a patient’s sight.

The first of its kind operation took place at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London last month and involved “seeding” human embryonic stem cells and specialised eye cells at the back of the retina of the patient who suffers from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) with the aim of restoring the patient’s sight.

The surgeons who performed the operation will not know if the operation is a success until Christmas, but early indications show that the cells under the retina are where they should be and appear healthy. They will perform the same operation on a further nine AMD patients, who will all be closely monitored for eye health and sight improvement.


What is AMD?

Age-related macular degeneration effects the part of the eye known as the macular. The macular is the spot at the centre of the retina; the nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye. There are two types of AMD; dry AMD and wet AMD. The macula contains a number of light sensitive cells which focus rays of light enabling you to see what’s directly in front of you, helping you to complete detailed activities such as reading, writing and sewing.

With dry AMD, the macula starts to degenerate as the light sensitive cells start to die, becoming fewer. At the same time, small deposits known as drusen build up on the back of the retina. As a result, central vision starts to deteriorate and gradually a blurred spot will start to form in the centre of your vision.

Wet AMD is when tiny new blood vessels start to grow underneath the macula, possibly in an attempt to clear away the drusen deposits. However, these new blood vessels often grow in the wrong places causing blood and fluid to leak on to the eye, damaging the macula. It is patients with wet AMD who are currently being treated with the stem cell operation.

“This is truly a regenerative project. In the past it’s been impossible to replace lost neural cells.

“If we can deliver the very layer of cells that is missing and give them their function back this would be of enormous benefit to people with the sight-threatening condition”.

Prof Lyndon Da Cruz of Moorfields Eye Hospital


World Sight Day

The news comes as eye health experts begin their preparations for World Sight Day which takes place later this week on 8th October. The day is organised by Vision 2020 and first formed by the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to raise awareness of blindness and vision impairment. It is also centred upon finding ways to help people who live with these conditions attain a better quality of life.

This next step in pioneering eye surgery will provide renewed hope for all those who suffer with AMD in retaining their sight.

You can get involved by visiting the official World Sight Day website and having a look at what you can do to help spread its messages.