Partial restoration of vision was successfully carried out by scientists using skin-to-eye stem cell transplant.

Japanese scientists reported that they were able to successfully complete a skin-to-eye stem cell transplant to a 70-year-old woman diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD causes blurred vision because the macula, the eye center for clear central vision, undergoes degeneration. It progresses slowly and commonly affects people aged 50 years and older. Although it does not lead to complete blindness, individuals with AMD may find it difficult to carry out everyday tasks.

The stem cell transplant was part of a 2014 pilot study conducted by the Japanese scientists from the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology. In the experiment, the scientists harvested 4 millimeters (0.16 inch) of skin from the subject's arm. The cells were modified and reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), which can differentiate into many different types of tissue in the body.

For this case, the cells from the arm were repurposed into retinal tissue.

Retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) was cultured and grown in a very thin sheet that was placed at the back of the subject's retina.

Masayo Takahashi, project leader at the Riken Centre, said the iPSCs is only an initial step in regenerative medicine. She added that more studies should be done so that the treatment can cover many patients.

The scientists are looking at the length of time these modified cells will last. Initial reports claim that the repurposed cells survived more than a year with no side effects, while the patient reported partially improved vision.

"The transplanted RPE sheet survived well without any findings indication of immune rejections nor adverse unexpected proliferation for one and a half years achieving our primary purpose of this pilot study," said the team in a statement.

Although the experiment only partially restored the patient's vision, the use of iPSCs shows great promise in treating several other illnesses including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

The scientists presented the findings of their study during the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology annual meeting in Seattle, Washington.

In 2015, an 80-year-old man from the UK received a bionic eye implant that corrected his AMD. The implant used an array of electrodes that revived the muscles and tissues within the macula.

Photo: Adhi Rachdian | Flickr

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