30 September 2008

On the 16th January, visitors to the Globe Theatre had a chance to experience some of the daily difficulties faced by blind people in an event that highlighted the problems with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), and the exciting work of the London Project to Cure Blindness, that is aiming to provide a cure for many of its sufferers.

This event was designed to draw attention to the work of The London Project to Cure Blindness, headed by Professor Pete Coffey of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. UCL is actively looking for funding opportunities to develop this potentially life-changing treatment, and needs £4m to develop the promising research into a widely available treatment within 5 years.

The London Project to Cure Blindness is an initiative launched last year by the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, Moorfields Eye Hospital and the University of Sheffield to develop a stem cell therapy that will restore vision in people who suffer blindness through AMD. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in people over 60, and affects 25 per cent of people over 60 in the UK. There is currently no treatment for the dry form of the disease and limited treatments for wet AMD.

Professor Coffey presented the latest results from the project, which uses patients’ own cells to replace those that have died. Scientists involved in the project were on hand to discuss the methods and implications of the research.

Guests took part in a range of activities to gain an appreciation of what it is like to lose sight and the impact of this loss on other senses. For example, some were guided through a completely dark room where they were asked to identify different sounds and flavours.

Professor Coffey said: “We don’t believe that science like this, that has the potential to transform lives, should operate in labs behind closed doors; we want everyone to know what we’re doing and to understand how important it is to the millions of people who suffer from this devastating condition, which could affect up to one third of the world’s population by 2070.

“Since the project launch we’ve received hundreds of enquiries from patients and others with an interest in this disease wanting to find out more. We hope that this event will educate people about the project and, most importantly, inspire them to help.”

The treatment developed by the project will use cells derived from human embryonic stem cells to replace the faulty support cells at the back of the eye that degenerate in AMD. Surgical procedures already trialled by the group in a number of patients using the patients’ own cells have illustrated that a cell-replacement therapy can work, demonstrating a significant improvement in sight and preventing blindness.

However, the London Project requires a further £4 million to meet its goal of getting the therapy to clinic within five years.

The event coincided with a launch of The London Project website, which provides information on AMD, general information and advice for people with sight loss, and a means to donate money towards the London Project.

Further Information:
Visit The London Project To Cure Blindness
Visit The UCL Institute of Opthalmology
Listen to Professor Coffey on Radio 4’s ‘In Touch’
Contact Karen Cheetham, Project Liaison Manager, k.cheetham@uclb.com