At the same time, Hadassah is looking to stem cell research as a solution. “Our hope is that within the next decade significant progress will be made in halting or at least markedly slowing this disease, which destroys the quality of life for so many,” said Hadassah Hospital’s Dr. Eyal Banin, the ophthalmologist who heads the stem cell research in this field. Primitive nerve cells, developed from human embryonic stem cells, have been successfully implanted in baby rats, and a small percentage of these cells have developed some of the characteristics of retinal cells. “In the future,” explains Dr. Banin, “we hope to be able to use such stem cells to support and perhaps replace degenerating photoreceptors and retinal pigment epithelial cells, which are damaged in age related macular degeneration.
At the Hadassah Medical Center, researchers are seeking to identify the genes that cause age related macular degeneration (AMD), which typically leads to blindness in the affected eye. The disease is characterized by deterioration of the central area of the retina, the paper-thin tissue at the back of the eye where light-sensitive cells send visual signals to the brain. An interdisciplinary team at Hadassah has patented an ultra-fast pulsed infrared laser that they believe will halt AMD and prevent deterioration of a patient’s eyesight.