Until recently, patients diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), were given no hope for recovering from any vision loss from the disease. Recent studies have shown reason for hope, though, as researchers have had encouraging results experimenting with stem cells in treating AMD. The research is still in early stages, but some patients in studies have shown steady results with no visual degeneration after three years.
What is Macular Degeneration?
The back of your eye is lined with nerve tissue, called the retina. In the very center of the retina, toward the back, is a small spot called the macula. This little bit of tissue is responsible for converting the things you see in the center of your field of vision into pictures. This is important for countless tasks such as driving, reading, and even recognizing the faces of those around you.
The macula is filled with cells called rods and cones that react to light, translating it into images. Behind the rods and cones is a layer of cells known as the RPE, (retinal pigment epithelium) which acts as a nutritional support system for the rods and cones.
In AMD patients, the RPE cells stop working, which allows the rods and cones to die. There are two types of AMD: dry and wet, with dry AMD being more common. Dry AMD is gradual, with the damage accumulating over years. In the rarer wet version, some unknown cause creates an abnormal growth in the blood vessels, and vision loss can happen in a matter of weeks.
Stem Cell Studies
Embryonic stem cells are uniquely useful for researchers, because they can easily be turned into almost any other type of cell in the human body. In two studies recently reported, researchers changed embryonic stem cells into RPE cells, and injected them into the eyes of patients suffering from dry age-related macular degeneration. In both cases, patients’ vision was found to be stable, even after years, with none of the expected visual degeneration most patients would exhibit. An additional trial is being planned for sometime soon in the United States.
Early Detection is the Key
As one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States, age-related macular degeneration is most common in patients over 60. As the population in our country gets older, we’ll be seeing a higher percentage of people with this disease.
While there is no cure at this time, we do have treatments and exercises that can help to slow down the progression of the disease. The key to this is early diagnosis. Treatment we offer works better if used before the disease has developed very far, and the only way to find this is with regular comprehensive eye exams. If you have any questions about AMD, or need to schedule an appointment, call Florida Eye Specialists at 904-564-2020 or request an appointment online.