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Europe's First Human Embryonic Stem Cell Trials Begin This Month

The Moorfields' surgeons will inject between 50,000 and 200,000 cells behind the retina through a fine needle in an outpatient operation expected to take up to an hour. Only patients with advanced Stargardt's will be admitted to the trial. If the treatment works, the replacement RPE cells will grow and eventually restore the retina to a healthy state that can support light-sensitive cells required for sight.

The retinal cells to be used in this trial were developed by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a company that is conducting similar trials in the United States. Professor James Bainbridge will be leading the trial at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre, based at Moorfields, and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

Age-Related MD Trials Next?

In related news, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Pfizer Inc. have requested permission to test a possible treatment derived from stem cells for patients with age-related macular degeneration. The researchers aim to cover the damaged macula, an area of the retina, with a patch of new retinal cells produced from human embryonic stem cells. The patch is inserted into the eye through a slit in the retina.

The therapy has already performed well in rats with retinal disease, stopping them from going blind, according to Dr. Pete Coffey, a professor at UCL who is leading the research project at the Institute. Pfizer, which signed a partnership with Dr. Coffey's group in 2009, will market the patch if it is approved for sale.

The researchers hope to win regulatory approval for a small human study next year.

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