Tested on rats, the breakthrough treatment using human eye cells was shown to restore vision to blind animals.
The research team from the University College of London believe that if the treatment yielded the same results in humans, it could substantially increase there quality of life.
Published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, the study’s successful results mean human trials could begin as soon as three years.
It is not the first time donated corneas have been used to improve people’s sight, but the team from UCL’ Institute of Opthamology did extract a more specialised cells from the back of the eyes , known as Muller glia cells.
These necessary cells can be found in the back of everyone’s eyes. They are a type of ‘adult cell’ capable of metamorphosing into specialised cells and for that reason could be used to treat a wide range of eye disorders.
For instance, in the lab trials the Muller glia cells were ‘chemically coaxed’ into transforming to rod cells, used to detect light in the retina. Injecting these ‘rod’ cells into the backs of the eyes of blind rats partially restored some sight.
Scans of the subject’s brains also showed that electrical signals between the eyes and the brain were recovered by as much as 50 per cent.
Professor Astrid Limb, one of the study’s researchers, told reporters explained what the change would mean to those without sight: “They probably wouldn’t be able to read, but they could move around and detect a table in a room.
“They would be able to identify a kettle and cup to make a cup of tea. Their quality of life would be so much better, even if they could not read or watch TV,” she added.
The cells may also help those suffering from eye disorders such as macular degeneration and renitis pigmentosa.