Age-related macular degeneration of the eye is the most frequent cause of blindness in the elderly.
The death of the photoreceptors (the rods and cones) resulting from the degeneration and death of the underlying retinal pigment epithelial (RPE cells) which provide the rods and cones vital nourishment, is the reason for this loss of vision.
A possible future treatment could be to transplant fresh RPE cells formed from embryonic stem cells.
Researchers have discovered a way to refine the production of retinal cells from embryonic type stem cells for treating blindness in the elderly. Using a novel technique of editing genes in cells via CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, they have improved the cells so that they can hide from the immune system to prevent rejection.
(Petrus-Reurer S, et.al. Generation of Retinal Pigment Epithelial Cells Derived from Human Embryonic Stem Cells Lacking Human Leukocyte Antigen Class I and II. Stem Cell Reports, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2020.02.006)
Please note: Stem cell therapy for treating blindness is in a research phase and is not an established therapy.
Stem cell therapy for treating blindness is not available in South Africa.