• Shonekaa Suthaaharan

Promising Stem Cell Research: Restoring Vision In People With Macular Diseases

Updated: Apr 18

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The macular is an important component of the eye. It is part of the retina and is the lining at the back of the eye. It is responsible for central vision, which allows people to see details clearly and focus on objects of interest. Central vision is what we use when we are reading or driving. Macular disease or macular degeneration is an eye condition in which the macula deteriorates and its most common type is age-related macular degeneration. This may lead to a loss of vision in one or both eyes. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50, affecting around 1.4 million Canadians! Unfortunately, the exact cause of macular degeneration is unknown. Furthermore, there is no cure for sight loss caused by macular diseases, as at this point, damage to the macula is irreversible.

Image: Macular disease is an eye condition in which the macula deteriorates. Age-related macular degeneration affects around 1.4 million Canadians! However, at the moment, there is no cure for the damage done by this disease. A new stem cell study shows potential in restoring the vision in people with macular disease.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.harvard.edu%2Fstaying-healthy%2F5-truths-about-protecting-your-eyes&psig=AOvVaw35e--wlk2oNigLrnv0LXc4&ust=1605483462021000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCNC6kJCag-0CFQAAAAAdAAAAABAK


The eye research charity Fight for Sight will be funding a stem cell research study which has the potential to restore the sight of people suffering from macular diseases! The study is led by Professor Rachel Pearson and her team. They are using retinal organoids, also known as mini retinas, which are grown from stem cells, in order to develop patches that could help create a functioning macula. These patches can be transplanted into patients to potentially restore the function of the macula.

Macular diseases remain a prominent issue, so this study could potentially benefit many. Katie, a 35 year old, who was diagnosed with a macular disease shares her personal experience with it: "My diagnosis has had a huge impact on my life. It's always at the back of my mind. I look at my little boys and I think what am I going to miss when they're older? To be suddenly told you have an eye condition but that there's nothing that can be done about it because it's incurable is the hardest thing for me. Any research into a cure or treatment for Stargardt disease and other macular conditions gives me hope for the future and hope is what you have to cling on to when you have a progressive sight loss condition like this."

Professor Pearson hopes that this study will give a better understanding of macular formation. She states, “To be able to give back any vision to someone who has lost it is so important, but it would be particularly significant to improve vision in the macula, as we are trying to do in this project, because that's the region upon which we are so dependent on for our high acuity vision.”

The Director of research at Fight for Sight is excited to fund this project. If the study is successful, she believes it will potentially have a positive impact on those suffering from macular diseases. She also believes it will provide vital information for future transplantation research.

Thus far, Pearson and her team have been able to turn stem cells into retinal cells, specifically cone photoreceptor cells. The team is currently working on making these retinal cells act like the actual cells in the macula. They are also working on positioning the cells correctly in the eye so that they can connect to the retina in order to properly function. With these cells, the team’s data shows that it is very likely to restore macular function!

Sources:

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-11-groundbreaking-stem-cell-sight-people.html

https://www.medicinenet.com/macular_degeneration/article.htm

https://www.oxsight.co.uk/news/central-vision-vs-peripheral-vision/

https://www.brightfocus.org/macular/chat/meeting-challenges-macular-story-hope#transcript

https://www.fightingblindness.ca/eye-diseases-pathways/age-related-macular-degeneration/#:~:text=Overview,affecting%20approximately%201.4%20million%20Canadians.

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