Stem Cells for Vision Loss

Ophthalmology has seen vast advances in surgical options for vision correction, cataracts, and glaucoma, but fewer treatment options exist for many conditions that affect the retina and the other less accessible parts of the eye. AMD is one of the several conditions that may respond well to stem cell therapy.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

The macula is the smallish, central area of the retina (the lining of the back wall of the eye), which is highly sensitive to light and color and allows you to see fine, colorful details. Minor degrees of macular degeneration are commonly experienced as people age. However, the condition progresses more rapidly in certain individuals to a severe degree. Symptoms include blurriness, distortion, and dark spots in the central field of vision. For example, a person with an advanced stage of macular degeneration might be able to see all the large numbers on a clock but not the hands in the middle.

Current Treatment Options

A high-dose vitamin and mineral supplement called AREDS may slow vision loss in patients who already have advanced AMD. In cases of neovascular AMD, where damage is caused by abnormal blood vessels developing under the macula, treatment options include injections, laser surgery, and photodynamic therapy. None of these treatment options restores vision, however, and the condition may continue to progress unabated despite treatment.

Stem Cell Therapy

There is hope that stem cells may prove useful in the treatment of AMD and other kinds of vision problems. As part of the Cell Surgical Network, we are interested in the potential of stromal vascular fraction (SVF), which contains mesenchymal stem cells and growth factors. Unlike other forms of stem cell therapy, using SVF obviates the need to culture the stem cells in a lab, since millions of stem cells can be obtained by a minimally invasive mini-liposuction procedure. Treatment is applied using a local anesthetic, and the whole process is performed as an outpatient procedure in about three hours.

Other Conditions

In addition to macular degeneration, stem cell therapy may prove useful for other ophthalmologic conditions including diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, retinal detachments, optic neuritis, and Leber’s optic neuropathy. With the help of ophthalmology consultants, our network has designed efficient treatment protocols that emphasize safety.

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