Eye exam [Illustrative].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Following several attempts by US researchers, ophthalmologists at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem have become the first in Israel to implant retinal-pigment epithelial (RPE) cells derived from embryonic stem cells into a patient with severe age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Hadassah ophthalmologists said they were implanting the cells in the hope of eventually finding an effective treatment for the degenerative disease.
The Health Ministry approved the experimental use to treat AMD for the first time following years in which embryonic stem cells were not found effective. The Hadassah attempt involved the implantation of retinal pigment cells to replace the degenerated retinal cells in the patient, but nowhere in the world has it yet proved to relieve the condition.
AMD is the most common cause of low vision in the Western world and severely reduces the quality of life of affected elderly people. It damages the macular region of the retina, which is vital for sharpness in the center of the eye’s field of vision. In the US alone, 1.6 million people per year are diagnosed with the condition. It results from the death of pigment cells found under the retina.
Human embryonic stem cells, however, can multiply endlessly in the lab and be a reliable source for healthy pigment cells for the retina. Implantation of such cells, Hadassah ophthalmologists hope, may eventually halt or slow the advance of AMD.
The research group that worked on the potential breakthrough is headed by Prof. Benjamin Reubinoff, head of Hadassah’s embryonic stem cell research center and director of obstetrics/gynecology department in the Ein Kerem hospital, along with Prof. Eyal Banin, head of degenerative diseases of the Retina and Macular Center in the hospital’s ophthalmology department. The two have cooperated for more than a decade to create conditions for the ripening of embryonic stem cells into pigment cells for the retina, together with Cell Cure Neurosciences Ltd.
“This transplantation is the initial step in a trial that will include the transplantation to additional patients and will be among the very few similar pioneer clinical trials worldwide. The goal of this trial is primarily to ensure the safety of transplantation of the cells, and also to evaluate parameters of therapeutic effects, according to Reubinoff.