Hadassah physicians are making progress in using stem cells to slow down age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Dr. Eyal Banin, Head of Hadassah’s Center for Retinal and Macular Degeneration, and Prof. Benjamin Reubinoff, Head of Hadassah’s Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center, report that they created Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE) cells in culture that bear marked similarity to native RPE cells in human eyes. RPE cells are most likely to fail first when a person develops AMD, and replacing or supporting these cells may help slow down degeneration.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that human embryonic stem cells were shown to differentiate in this fashion,” Dr. Banin said.

“When transplanted into the eyes of rats, some of the transplanted cells express markers specific for photoreceptor cells, the cells that absorb light and begin the process of vision.” So far the derivation of retinal cells from human embryonic stem cells has only been achieved in the laboratories. Dr. Bannin cautions that while these findings provide hope for AMD sufferers, “we are looking at a decade, at the very least, before this technology comes into clinical use. It’s a very new field, there’s a very large leap to be made from rodent to human eyes, and there are many potential risks to be controlled before stem cells can be applied clinically.”