Initial results from a clinical trial conducted at Moorfields Eye Hospital in the UK have found that a specially engineered patch can restore reading vision in patients suffering from sudden severe sight loss due to wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The patch contains retinal pigment epithelium cells obtained from stem cells and was tested as part of the London Project to Cure Blindness funded by the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The project is a result of an alliance between University College London professor Pete Coffey and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust retinal surgeon Lyndon da Cruz.

As part of the trial, two patients were implanted with the stem cell patch using a specially engineered surgical tool.

“Post-treatment patients were found to be able to read 60-80 words a minute with normal reading glasses, having been previously unable to read anything.”

The subjects were then monitored for 12 months to investigate if the patch could replenish diseased cells in the affected eye. Post-treatment patients were found to be able to read 60-80 words a minute with normal reading glasses, having been previously unable to read anything.

Douglas Waters, 86, from Croydon, London, was one of two people who had received the treatment at Moorfields Eye Hospital. He developed severe wet AMD in July 2015 and received the treatment three months later in his right eye.

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Waters said: “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.”

Lyndon da Cruz said: “The results suggest that this new therapeutic approach is safe and provides good visual outcomes.

“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.”

Coffey added that the new regenerative medicine approach could aid the development of an affordable ‘off-the-shelf’ therapy over the coming five years. The researchers further hope that the stem cell patch can help in treating dry AMD in the future.