Cord blood cells used to treat macular degeneration in trial

The current phase 2 trial seeks to establish the treatment as safe before a larger trial is mounted to determine its efficacy.
By Stephen Feller   |   July 21, 2016 at 8:56 AM
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CHICAGO, July 21 (UPI) -- An experimental treatment for macular degeneration being tested in a clinical trial has the potential to stop the condition and potentially restore vision, researchers say.

Multipotent cells from unbilical cord blood are being tested as a treatment for the most common form of macular degeneration, with the hope the treatment can stop progression of the disease early enough to prevent its worse effects.

The disease damages and degrades light-sensitive cells in the center of the retina, causing blurriness, wavy lines or blind spots, progressively getting worse over time. Although there are two types of the disease, dry and wet, and neither has a cure, the slower progressing dry form affects about 90 percent of patients with macular degeneration.

Studies in recent years have suggested injecting new cells into the eye could effectively replace retinal pigment epithelial cells, or RPEs, under the retina, which are responsible for supporting the light-sensitive cells macular degeneration destroys.

New retinal pigment epithelial are thought to have the potential to delay or reverse macular degeneration, however researchers first had to establish a way of placing new cells behind the retina without causing further harm to the eye. Photo Lisa Birmingham/University of Illinois at Chicago

The current phase 2 trial is expected to test whether the cell treatment is safe, as researchers had to create a new method of safely injecting cells behind the retina without causing additional damage to the eye. Once the treatment is deemed safe, researchers say a larger phase 3 trial will test whether the cord cell treatments are effective.

"If the treatment is successful, that would mean that we might be able to use it in people with the beginning stages of dry age-related macular degeneration, when vision loss is not so severe, in order to slow the loss of RPE and photoreceptor cells," Dr. Yannek Leiderman, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a press release.

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