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View inside human eye - showing retina, optic nerve and maculaLondon surgeons carried out a pioneering stem cell treatment in an ongoing trial for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). On Tuesday, a 60-year-old woman became the first person in the U.K. to receive the operation to cure the most common form of blindness.

The procedure, performed by surgeons at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, involves growing retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells from stem cells taken from human embryos. The eye cells are then implanted at the back of the retina, reports the BBC.

The patient who had the procedure has “wet” macular degeneration, which is caused by abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid or blood into the center of the retina, causing sudden loss of central vision. This type of AMD is less common, but the more serious form of the disease.

Nine more patients, who also have “wet” macular degeneration will be treated over the next year and a half. After receiving the transplanted RPE cells, each patient will be observed for a year so that the treatment’s safety and efficacy can be monitored. If the treatment is successful, the researchers said, it should also work for “dry” macular degeneration, a more common and less severe form of the disease.

The outcome of the first surgery will not be known until at least December, but Professor Peter Coffey, of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, who is leading the research, said, “But we can see the cells are there under the retina where they should be and they appear to be healthy.”

Said Professor Lyndon Da Cruz of Moorfields, surgeon and study co-leader, “There is real potential that people with wet age-related macular degeneration will benefit in the future from transplantation of these cells.”

The team at Moorfields is working in partnership with Pfizer, which is funding the trial. The research is supported by the London Project to Cure Blindness, a joint project between Moorfields, the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), and UCL’s ophthalmology institute.

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