Professor Dennis Clegg and his team have spent the last eight years working on something once thought impossible. Collaborating with institutes across Southern California, Clegg is researching a cure for macular degeneration eye disease – the leading cause of blindness among elderly Americans.
The results of his research could affect 20 million people around the world.
“There’s no good therapy that’s out there and what we’ve done in our lab in Santa Barbara is how to take stem cells and turn them into the cells that you need to treat the disease,” Clegg said.
Macular degeneration reduces a person’s ability to see detail. Early in the dry type of the disease, it starts with vision growing fuzzy, like snow on a television, and in its most serious form, can completely block central vision.
Dr. Taka Nomura, an optometrist at Eye and Vision Care of Santa Barbara, called the researching game changing.
“I’ve been in practice for 38 years and I’ve been watching people lose their sight every year and know we have hope for these people who potentially can have their vision stabilize or maybe even improved with this research,” Nomura said.
The treatment works by growing a line of donated embryonic stem cells on a tiny piece of plastic, similar to a contact lens, called a scaffold. The scaffold is then placed behind the retina.
So far, the treatment has been tested on rats and pigs, who have eyes similar in size to humans.
Researchers tracked brain waves in those animals, which proved to government regulators that the treatment was worth pushing forward.
Currently in phase one of clinical trials, getting it to people could still be years away, but Clegg is confident.
“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,” he said.
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