SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Once thought impossible, a cure for a blinding eye disease is in the works at UC Santa Barbara.
Researchers are in a phase one clinical trial with a procedure that would improve or cure the vision for those suffering from Macular Degeneration. The blinding eye disease is the leading cause of blindness in older Americans and impacts the sight of 20 million people worldwide.
How do they do it?
It's a sophisticated procedure that places stem cells in the back of the eye to repair damaged areas.
"There's no good therapy that's out there," said Professor Dennis Clegg, who's lab is leading the researcher. "What we've done in our lab in Santa Barbara is take stem cells and turn them into the cells that you need to treat the disease."
UC Santa Barbara scientists and other institutes around Southern California are working on this research as part of the California Project to Cure Blindness.
While stem cells used in hearts and spinal cords take millions or hundreds of millions of cells, Professor Clegg believes only about 100,000 cells would be needed to work in the eye of Macular Degeneration patients.
Those cells would last for the patients lifetime and would be implanted in a one-time procedure.
Getting this treatment to the most people could still be years away but the work being done at UCSB is groundbreaking in the world of vision restoration.
"In five years my hope is that we'll be ready to get this approved and out to patients to help people who currently don't have a therapy to use," Clegg said.