Stem cells could help restore vision in patients with macular degeneration

The BBC reports progress by UK scientists on use of stem cells to restore vision.

The first patients should be treated within 5 years, according to the BBC.

The team has already repaired the vision of a handful of patients with age-related macular degeneration using cells from the patients' own eyes.

With the help of a £4m donation, they are now planning to carry out the same operation using retinal cells grown from stem cells in the lab. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects around 25% of over-60s in the UK to some degree and causes blindness in 14 million people across Europe. There are two types - dry - which makes up 90% of cases, and wet, which makes up the other 10%. It is caused by the failure of retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPE) - a layer of support cells under the retina, which processes light. This leads to the degeneration of the macula - the central area of the retina - and gradually knocks out central vision.

Such rapid progress in the area of stem cell research is likely to shape ongoing ethical debates about the use of stem cells. Progress marches on whether we like it not, whether it is the Christ or the anti-Christ, whether supported by rational moralizing or unsupportable. Invention of the wheel was a blink of Brahma's eye. The cure to macular degeneration is not far behind.