Macular Degeneration has been identified as a leading cause of blindness and vision loss among older people. Because of better diagnostic techniques in recent years, more and more people are being diagnosed with this eye disease.
Research has turned to both gene therapy and stem cell therapy as potential treatments for macular degeneration. It has shown promise in several recent clinical trials.
Macular degeneration causes a loss of central vision caused by retinal degeneration. The severity of the vision loss depends on which type of the eye disease a person has. Wet macular degeneration caused by the formation of abnormal blood vessels can cause rapid loss of vision while dry macular degeneration resulting from the build-up of drusen deposits is often associated with a gradual loss of vision.
Many of the studies centred around gene therapy and stem cell therapy for macular degeneration are in the early stages. Companies such as Oxford BioMedica and Advanced Cell Technology are exploring these treatment options but patiens have to be reminded these trials are in their early stages.
Researchers must ensure patient safety and viability of these treatment options given the potential impact these could have on a persons vision.
Arguably, gene therapy is the most elegant approach for treating any retinal disorder, including macular degeneration.
In gene therapy, a patient would receive an injection to correct the underlying genetic. It has the potential to stop further progression of the disease and in some instances restore vision. Many have heralded gene therapy as a potential cure for macular degeneration but researchers are hesitant to speak in those terms.
It is hoped diagnostic tests would detect a genetic defect that can then be corrected before any vision loss.
Stem cell therapy being pioneered by Advanced Cell Technology’s treatment has the potential to be come a one-time treatment option for macular degeneration and other retinal disorders as well.
By replacing damaged cells in the eye with stem cells, it is hoped they will work for several years or even a lifetime. Stem cells have the potential to take on characteristics of any cell in the body and research have shown they can grow into retinal cells.
As research in both these areas advance, it is hoped macular degeneration will be a thing of the past.