Currently, procedures involving stem cell applications to correct blindness are few and far between. However, there are signs indicating that it could become as common as cataract surgeries.
India and many of the developing third-world countries today face serious issues stemming from a large proportion of the population falling prey to blindness. The numbers scale in the millions! Without an institutionalized social security system, these citizens sometime lead a debilitating life and end up being a burden on their families.
Over the last decade, there have been several hi-tech innovations in medicine and medical care. While this is true, it’s ironic that these newest innovations are expensive and inaccessible to the public. The affordability-accessibility ratio of stem cell therapy is equally unfavorable. A few smaller players have now put India on the global map of regenerative medicine but there’s a long way to go and much to do.
Stem cells have been seen as manna from heavenfor some time now, with their ability to deal with many a medical condition. But, the cost of some of the therapies and treatments are prohibitive today.
Pic courtesy: Freepik
While cost barriers remain a challenge, thegood news is that the cost of medical treatment using stem cell therapies are destined to fall as they become more widespreadjust as with the lifecycle of all new the technologies. With the treatment process being very new, the pricing is yet to stabilize. But, an indication of the range of price may be gauged by the American experience. A therapy is said to cost about $12,000 currently in India, according to people from the industry. In the US, on the other hand, it could be $50,000 or more. But, the industry players are unanimous that the prices will fall as the number of players offering it and number of people taking these therapies will increase.
Some scientists believe that a treatment for some of the most common causes of blindness is barely five years away. The results are published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Affordability and Accessibility
The two patients had advanced AMD – age-related macular degeneration – which is known to destroy the central vision. Both were in the process of losing their sight. According to their surgeon, they could not even see a book, let alone read the printed letters.
A patch of stem cells were implanted over the damaged section on the retina which, remarkably, restored their vision, allowing them to not only read, but to also see faces that were a grey blur earlier.
In the future, the scientists, members of the London Project to Cure Blindness, behind the breakthrough believe, the procedure could become as common as cataract surgery. This augurs well for the roughly 600,000 to 700,000 people in the UK alone and the millions in India who are losing their sight because of AMD
The London Project to Cure Blindness is a collaborative project by the duo of Prof. Pete Coffey of University College London and Prof Lyndon da Cruz, a retinal surgeon at the Moorfields Eye Hospital, London.
According to Dr Coffey, the improvement in vision was much greater than that they hoped for.
Pic courtesy: Freepik
Macular Degeneration is a progressive eye condition which involves deterioration of the macula, the central region of the retina. The functioning of a human eye is similar to that of a camera, where the cornea/lens of the eye is the lens in a camera and the retina of the eye is the film in a camera. The central retina called the macula is responsible for the clear and crisp images of the objects (central vision) we see. In certain people, macula degenerates with age causing a loss of central vision. A simple cataract operation does not have any impact on the degenerated macula. Significant research efforts by Dr. Bobby Qureshi at London Eye Hospital and Dr. Pablo Artal from Murcia University have resulted in iolAMD® eyemax monoTM which is an implantable device for intermediate to advanced dry macular degeneration disease treatment. The lens uses sophisticated optics to focus and enhance the images at the peripheral area of the macula thereby improving the short and long distance vision. The potential benefit of this technology is, should the patient’s macular disease progress the lens enables them to use different preferred retinal locus’s (PRL’s) around the macular area and benefit from optimized visual function. This Technology is made in India and it will benefit large number of patients in under-privileged segment and the cost can come down as the procedure numbers improve.