Stem cell therapy leaves patients blind

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Three patients have developed severe vision loss in both eyes after undergoing intravitrial stem cell injections for age related macular degeneration (AMD) at a US clinic, a paper reviewing the cases has reported.1 The review authors have called for greater oversight of procedures using stem cells and the clinics providing these treatments and highlighted the need to increase public awareness of the “possibility of devastating outcomes” with unregulated treatment.

Several clinical trials are currently investigating the delivery of human retinal cells obtained from pluripotent stem cells to replace damaged cells. These trials are all registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But some clinics are using adipose derived stem cells, which are easier to prepare and don’t need an investigational new drug application to be submitted to the FDA.

Ophthalmology specialists reviewed three consecutive patients with AMD who lost vision after receiving intravitreal injections of autologous stem cells derived from adipose tissue harvested from liposuction at one US clinic.

Reporting their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine, the reviewers found that the patients’ visual acuity was dramatically poorer in both eyes at one year after the treatment. Their visual acuity ranged from 20/30 to 20/200 before the procedure and fell to 20/200 to no light perception afterwards.

The patients’ visual loss was dramatically greater than that reported at one year in studies of other treatments for AMD. It was associated with ocular hypertension, haemorrhagic retinopathy, vitreous haemorrhage, lens dislo...