Posted: 28th March 2018

A pioneering medical research study, part funded by the Freemasons’ Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund, has successfully used stem cell therapy to treat age-related macular degeneration.

In 2015, £65,000 was donated to Moorfields Eye Charity to support the London Project to Cure Blindness, a collaboration between Moorfields Eye Hospital and University College London.

Finding a treatment for age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of sight loss in the UK, affecting over 600,000 people in the UK. The two patients who took part in the project, a woman in her early 60s and a man in his 80s, suffered from wet AMD and declining vision.

The project investigated whether the diseased cells at the back the patients’ affected eye could be replenished using a specially engineered patch of retinal pigment epithelium cells derived from stem cells.

A specially engineered surgical tool was used to insert the patch under the retina in the affected eye of each patient in an operation lasting one to two hours.

The patients were monitored for 12 months following the operation and reported improvements to their vision. They went from not being able to read at all even with glasses, to reading 60-80 words per minute with normal reading glasses.

It’s the first case of a complete engineered tissue that has been successfully used in this way and it is hoped that it will also help treat dry AMD in the future.

“I feel so lucky to have been given my sight back”

86 year old Douglas Waters was one of two people to take part in the medical trial. He developed severe wet AMD in July 2015 and received the treatment three months later in his right eye.

In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye. I was struggling to see things clearly, even when up-close. After the surgery my eyesight improved to the point where I can now read the newspaper and help my wife out with the gardening. It’s brilliant what the team have done and I feel so lucky to have been given my sight back.

Professor Lyndon da Cruz, consultant retinal surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital said:

“The results suggest that this new therapeutic approach is safe and provides good visual outcomes. The patients who received the treatment had very severe AMD, and their improved vision will go some way towards enhancing their quality of life. We recognise that this is a small group of patients, but we hope that what we have learned from this study will benefit many more in the future.”

Professor Pete Coffey, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology said:

“This study represents real progress in regenerative medicine and opens the door to new treatment options for people with age-related macular degeneration. 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.”