A revolutionary technique that could restore sight to the blind and prevent others from losing their sight is to be tested on people for the first time.
Researchers have the green light to inject embryonic stem cells into the eyes of teenagers and young men and women with a hereditary form of blindness.
Tests on older people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common form of blindness in the elderly, are expected to follow next year.
Although the initial trials will take place in the U.S., British trials are likely to follow. If they replicate the ‘phenomenol’ results of animal tests, the lives of millions could be transformed.
However, the use of cells generated from embryos in the first days of life is controversial, with pro-life groups saying it is wrong to plunder an unborn baby to advance medical science.
Robert Lanza, a leading stem cell researcher, will today announce that he has been granted permission to carry out the world’s first trial into the power of embryonic stem cells to heal the eye.
The body’s ‘master cells’, stem cells can turn into other cell types and have tremendous potential as a repair kit for the body.
Dr Lanza’s recipe of vitamins and other chemicals turns the cells into healthy versions of the cells that become damaged at the back of the eye in AMD and other forms of blindness.
Dr Lanza, of Massachusetts biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology, said he will apply for permission to carry out trials on Britons with eye disease. He said: ‘This is a huge milestone for us.’
AMD affects 300,000 Britons but the total could top one million within 25 years.