Macular Degeneration Stem Cell Treatment

Dr. Kisling Eye Diseases, Macular Degeneration 23 Comments

Macular Degeneration Treated With Stem Cells 

Several years ago I received a phone call from a reporter wanting to know more about stem cell treatments for an eye condition where the optic nerve is not fully developed. A young girl from the Fort Collins area was en-route to China for treatment. At the time I was not aware of the procedure. A lot has changed in world of eyecare since then. On July 14, 2011 the first patient in the United States received a stem cell transplant for macular Degeneration. Steven Schwartz, M.D. and Robert Lanza, M.D. Performed the procedure using embryonic stem cells developed by Advanced Cell Technology, Inc.


This marked the beginning of a clinical trial by eye doctors that will involve 12 people. The first patients received 50,000 retinal pigment epithelial cells derived from embryonic stem cells. Stem cells are cells that have the capacity to develop into other types of cells and tissues. Stem cells can be from embryonic or adult origins. Embryonic stem cells are removed from developing embryos several days old that were initially grown for in-vitrio fertilization procedures. The embryo is normally destroyed in the process. Dr. Lanza has developed a procedure to remove a single cell and start the stem cell line without resulting in the death of the embryo.

Is Stem Cell Use For The Eyes Safe? 

Like all clinical trials, the eye doctors do not know if the procedure will be safe or effective. It is intended to treat the dry form of macular degeneration. The dry form is responsible for the majority of cases of macular degeneration and results in millions of people suffereing with vision loss and partial blindness. This study will be completed in 2013, and if it is successful further clinical trials will be required before any treatments are approved.


Germany and China have had programs with ophthalmosists treating macula degeneration with stem cells. The program in Germany was closed by the government over concerns about stem cell usage. The leading program in China was developed by Beike Biotech, where doctors claim to have treated thousands of cases of different types of diseases with stem cells, including age related macular degeneration. Beike physicians report they do not use embryonic stem cells, but instead rely on adult cell lines derived from umbilical cords or bone marrow.


In March of 2011 vision researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center were able to induce adult stem cell lines to turn into retinal pigment epithelial cells. These cells were not robustly healthy but did mimic the functions of the normal retinal pigmented epithelial cells. In the future they hope to produce vital, healthy cells for future eye doctors use in transplantation.

Eye Treatments And Stem Cell Debate 

Adult stem cell treatment have a long and somewhat successful history. Embryonic stem cell lines were not developed until 1998 so they are a relatively new kid on the block. The same group that developed this first stem cell line also transformed skin cell into cells with similar properties in 2007. (James Thomson and Shinya Yamanka). The transformation of normal cells into stem cells will someday probably end the debate over embryonic stem cell uses in treating diseases.

We do not know if the current attempts will be successful and what the possible side effects may show up over time. Transplanting cells does not currently provide a mechanism to encourage them to hook up anf function where they are needed. There are lingering concerns about stem cells (especially embryonic stem cells) developing into the wrong types of tissues or being rejected. The long term potential of stem cell therapy in “regenerative medicine” is enormous. In 2008, a 15 year old girl in Fort Collins, Colorado traveled to China for stem cell treatment of optic nerve hypoplasia. At that time her vision was described as 20/4000. One year later she received her drivers license permit. We can hope the results in treating macular degeneration will be the same.

Comments 23

  1. Keith MacLeod

    My 87 year old Mother has Macular Degeneration in one or both eyes. Her vision is very limited, but can still see some. It recently got worst. She has been seen by eye specialist in Lafayette and Ft. Collins.
    Can she have the stem cell treatment? Is the stem cell treatment approved for United States or would she need to go some other country to have it done?

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    Hi Keith,

    Currently the only option I am aware of in the US is a small clinical trial being run by the Jules Stein Institute in California. I believe they are still recruiting new patients-for more info you can visit: this site. The same company doing this trial is associated with CHA Bio & Diostech Co., Ltd. in South Korea. They will probably be utilizing this treatment protocol in South Korea much sooner than in the US. There are a few hospitals in China that currently treat macular degeneration with stem cells but they are not substantiated by good research to date. Stem cell treatment for macular degeneration is still investigational and unproven but there is great potential and hope for the future. South Korea is probably the best bet for the future due to the affiliations with Advanced Cell Technology in California.

    Best WIshes


    i am in terested in obtaining information on the stemcell proceedure for macular degeneration. i understand there is a first clss hospita in tijuana, mexico specializing in this procedure . can you please comment.

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    Hi Joseph,

    I have not been able to obtain any information on clinics in Mexico. There may be some legitimate treatment centers but there are a number that have engaged in questionable therapies in the past. The only approved U.S trials are at:
    Advanced Cell Technology, Inc.
    P.O. Box 1700
    Santa Monica, CA 90406
    Tel: (310) 576 0611
    Fax: (310) 576 0662

    China does some treatment and South Korea has an evolving relationship with Advanced Cell Technologies. If you do find the name of the hospital in Tijuana let me know and I will see what I can find out.

    Best WIshes

  5. Maissa Aly Kamel

    I’d like to ask about the stem cell treatment for the wet macular degeneration, has it been tried yet?
    Where can I go to give the try? my father had taken Lucentis injection periodically but now he’s suffering from loss of vision, I hope to find a cure for his problem.
    I live in Egypt & it’s no problem to go anywhere to help him.
    Thanks for your time.

  6. Post

    Hi Maissa,

    Lucky for your dad to have a daughter like you! There are no trials with wet macular degeneration that I am aware of. In the US, Advanced Cell Technologies in Santa Monica California are doing the clinical trails for dry macular degeneration.

    Advanced Cell Technology, Inc.
    P.O. Box 1700
    Santa Monica, CA 90406
    Tel: (310) 576 0611
    Fax: (310) 576 0662

    You might be able to get a little more information from them, they do have an evolving realtionship with a hospital in South Korea.

    There is also a clinical trial being started at Moorefield Hospital In London, again just with dry macular degeneration, and something they are working on with Pfizer drug company.

    Prof Pete Coffey
    The London Project to Cure Blindness
    UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
    11-43 Bath Street
    London EC1V 9EL

    Germany had a clinic that was closed after a few deaths and mismanaged care. There is a clinic in China that has reportedly been treating macular degeneration for a number of years. I can’t vouch for them one way or the other.

    Finally, there are a number of clinics in Mexico that advertise heavily for stem cell treatment. There is no research that I have ever found from any of these sources and I would recommend avoiding them. I hope you can find some help for him sooner then later. Keep an eye out for newer versions of drugs similar to Lucentis.

    Best Wishes

  7. George

    Dear sir.

    I am suffering from genetic dry macular degeneration and I am very happy to know that maybe there is a progress in the treatment. Thank you very much for the information that you provide through your site. I will be visiting your site for further information. I hope you would keep us up to date.

    Your’s faithfully.

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  9. john

    My 5yr son has suffered damage to macula due to trauma induced retina detach. Is the stem cell something that can help him? I am so hopeful that my little man can be helped. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

  10. Post

    Hi John,

    Treatment for that type of injury is not available yet but I think we will see it in his lifetime. It is a little more complex since the tissue has been structurally altered from the detachment but stem cells can do remarkable things. It is great we have two eyes.

    Best Wishes

  11. Ibrahim

    Dear sir

    I would like to ask about can you treat my Mother the case(Eyes) related for advanced Age Macula Degeneration..My Mother 72 Now had such case before six year in the right eye and neglect her eye and not inject the Avastin in the right eye at that time ,She is no Diabetic And Hypertension….

    I tried to treat her for 2 years but the doctors advice me there is no treatment in such this case because became advanced and fibrosis in the right eye and nothing benefit for her eyes now. I’m from Iraq and and i went with her to UAE AND JORDAN and still her eyes deteriorate and day by day the vision decrease and effect on the other eyes (Left) and difficulties to see the words … SO the last month i went her to Jordan and the Doctor told should be inject the right eye with Avastin to prevent the growth of blood vessels in the Right eye and keep the remains in the right eye but she is fibrosis in th right eye and still no benefit for Injection…

    which country is advancet to traet with stem cell transplant?? and can you advice me?
    and give me the Email and adress for advanced Center??

    Thank you

  12. Post

    Hi Dr Ibrahemkhalil,

    Your mom is lucky to have you. Your best bet is probably waiting for South Korea. They have started a clinical trial of stem cell transplantation in a limited number of macular problems and I suspect they will be ahead of everyone else when treatment really enters the market. They are working with Advanced Cell Technologies in the US which do have the first clerical trials on macular degeneration. I don’t expect ACT to move very fast in the US due to the barriers we have placed in front of stem cell research. The compnat in South Korea is part of CHA Bio & Diostech Co., Ltd. The only other option I am aware of is in China. They have been doing stem cell treatment for macular degeneration for a number of years now. Their equivalent of the US Food and Drug Administration is not nearly as stringent so there are open question in my mind about the risks and actual outcomes. I have heard second hand that the procedures are frequently done by US Docs working in China.

    Here is a little contact information-please take it for what it’s worth- I have not had time to check out any of the companies or providers


    (2) Stem Cells For Hope
    Walter Kravchenko, Chairman and CEO
    631 929 3900
    Peter Sidorenko
    Chief Operating Officer
    631 929 3900
    China, Costa Rica, Russia, India, Germany, Costa Rica, Israel, Mexico, Eastern Europe.

    (3) A hospital in China

    +86 1342 7799 112

    Best Wishes & Do Your Homework Well, I really expect the first well controlled treatments to show up in South Korea. (Of course the veterinarians will probably be light years ahead everywhere with different stem cell therapies being used on those multi-million dollar race horses already. Sad to say, but a good large animal veterinarian may be the best person to give you a reasonable evaluation of the quality of a program in Asia.

    Sorry I was behind on this answer,

    Best Wishes!

  13. Marwa Mohamed

    My mother is a diagnosed case of Retinitis Pigmentosa. We’ve recently stumbled into MD Stem Cells who used to perform bone marrow stem cell injections in Germany in Xcell, then in Vienna and now in Florida. My mother is insisting of undergoing their treatment, however, I am concerned that this is not part of any clinical trial and there is no published research. What are the risks of such procedure?

    Mrs. Maissa, we are also in Egypt so would be good if we can get in touch to discuss research if possible?

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    Hi Marwa,

    Lucky for your mom she has you helping her. With this one, I personally would suggest you really take the time to look into it before proceeding. When I looked for information on Xcell is sounded a little familiar to me. When I looked for who was behind it, it was a little hard to find. I always like to see the names of the doctors and directors right on the web site. When I did a Whois search for who registered the domain it was blocked for privacy. I did find a reference to a Dr Steven Levy in conjunction with MD Stem Cells. Another search found there was also apparently a Dr Steven Levy associated with the XCell-Center in Germany in the past. I can’t say it’s the same person but it is a heck of a coincidence if it isn’t! If you Google XCell-Center in Germany you will see they were shut down a few years back after the death of a child. While they did seem to treat several thousand patients, there were a fair number of skeptics in the stem cell research community over the methods and techniques they were using. Sadly, treatment centers like Xcell have probably slowed the speed at which stem cell therapy is becoming available and accepted worldwide. You might look at this:

    Let me know if I can help you more.

    Best Wishes!

  15. Marwa Mohamed

    Thank you for your reply. I believe there is a suggestion that is missing? I am aware of Steven Levy’s history. I have found several other stem cell providers such as Emcell in Ukraine but I am concerned over their legitimacy and the side effects. Help!

  16. Pingback: Repost of early CHA Biotech Clinical Trial Results

  17. nour

    hello Dr,
    please can you tell me if there is any stem cells trails or treatments for optic nerve atrophy my ant had a tumor on her optic nerve few years a go, it caused her a nerve atrophy i looked throw the web to find any kind of trails that she can be a part of, please i would really appreciate if you can give me any advice it will mean the world for us please help.
    many thanks

  18. Post
    Dr. Kisling

    Hi Venetta,

    For background you might check with the Neural Stem Cell Initiative. or Schepens

    A clinical trial that is recruiting right now can be found at:

    Another trial that is recruiting can be found at:

    In South Korea you might check on CHA MediTech at:

    In China Beike Biotechnology at:

    I can’t speak for the quality and methods outside of the US but a few years ago a girl from Fort Collins purportedly had great results from China.

    Hope this helps, probably her best bet is to get enrolled in a clinical trail in the US.

    Best Wishes!

  19. Dee wells

    The Hubble implant which is helping people with macular degeneration is another option whilst waiting for a cure. The hospital is the London Eye Hospital in London, they also confirmed that they will have stem cells and Gene therapy in the next 2 years.


    The stem cells are stored at sub-zero temperatures
    until they are needed. The potential treatments by stem cell transplant as perceived by the researchers cover almost the complete human body such as the Brain and Spinal Cord diseases, Muscle and cardiac related ailments, Cancer and blood related disease, disorders related to the nervous system, dementia,
    kidney, diabetes etc. Though it was really tough time for her, but she
    was trying hard to get over of that pain.

  21. caren


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