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Home » macular degeneration » Stem Cells and Macular Degeneration

Stem Cells and Macular Degeneration

We are on the threshold of harnessing the healing powers of stem cell therapy for future treatment of macular degeneration.

Texas Macular Degeneration Associates is always on the cutting edge and keeping up with the latest developments in the detection, management, and treatment of macular degeneration. We would like to make you aware of recent research in stem cell biology that has pointed us in the direction of a new treatment for macular degeneration.

Stem Cell Research & Macular Degeneration

The focus is on two main categories of stem cells, human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). Embryonic stem cells are found in a fertilized human egg that has been donated. They have the ability to differentiate and can become any cell type in the body. In contrast, pluripotent stem cells are derived from adult human cells and are usually skin cells. They too are reprogrammed in the lab to differentiate into almost any cell type.

One major benefit of the cells that are obtained from adult human cells is they can be obtained from the same person who needs the stem cell therapy, minimizing the chances rejection due to an immune response. At this time, creating these cells is a very labor intensive and expensive process that is not currently commercially feasible. Nevertheless, both cell types have been used to generate replacement tissue for subjects with macular degeneration and other retinal pigmentary diseases of the retina.

Treatment Needs

Macular degeneration is classified as either wet or dry, based on the presence or absence of leaking blood vessels in the macula area. Patients with wet macular degeneration have several treatment options including injections of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) drugs, laser photocoagulation to destroy the new unwanted blood vessel network or surgical removal of the blood vessel network. The use of stem cell therapy in wet macular degeneration is limited to cases involving tears in the retinal pigment cells in the macula zone of the retina or damage from recurrent hemorrhages.

Unlike wet macular degeneration, dry macular degeneration lacks therapeutic options and causes debilitating vision loss over a period of years. In theory, being able to regenerate and replace the damaged retinal pigment layer of the macula through stem cell-based treatments could delay or even reverse the consequences of dry macular degeneration. Over the past year, there have been early phase trials investigating the effects of replacing damaged pigment epithelial cells in patients with wet and dry macular degeneration each with exciting results.

Studies are still going on to date with no evidence of transplant rejection or ill effects although they have yet to report on the final long-term results overall. The future of stem cell-based retinal therapy is bright, and a great deal of hope exists for patients suffering from what is currently an untreatable and blinding disease.