Age-related macular degeneration is a common cause of vision loss in people ages 50 and older. The condition causes damage to a part of the eye called the macula, which is responsible for central vision or the ability to see things straight in front of us, according to the National Eye Institute. People use central vision for daily tasks such as driving and reading.
In the new study, the researchers focused on a layer of cells behind the macula called the "retinal pigment epithelium," which provides nourishment to certain eye cells and is involved in the progression of macular degeneration.
The researchers used stem cells to create a new "patch" of retinal pigment epithelium. They started with embryonic stem cells (which can become any cell in the body) and coaxed these cells into becoming retinal pigment epithelium cells. The patch was then surgically implanted into the patients' eyes.
Still, more research is needed on the treatment's safety. There is a concern that the transplanted cells could become cancerous, although researchers haven't seen any signs of this so far, the BBC reported.
Currently, the treatment is only for "wet" macular degeneration, a form of the disease in which the macula is damaged by the growth of abnormal blood vessels. But the researchers hope their treatment could also help with "dry" macular degeneration, which occurs when cells in the macula gradually break down.