UCL’s Professor Pete Coffey is the joint leader of a major project to bring stem cell treatment to the point of clinical trial.
Professor Coffey, of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and the UCL Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, will be the UK leader of a £2.4 million study addressing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - a leading cause of blindness among elderly people.
The project has been funded as part of an international collaboration between the Medical Research Council and the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Professor Mark Humayun at the University of Southern California will lead the research in the United States.
The initiative has brought leading researchers together to add momentum to the development of stem cell treatments that can eventually be used in the clinic.
The first programme to emerge from this enterprise will be expected to begin Phase I clinical trials within four years.
Professor Coffey said: ‘Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of irreversible vision-loss, and it is estimated that over 710,000 people in the UK will suffer from AMD with severe vision impairment by 2020. The stem cell route we have proposed offers an opportunity for more successful results based on a single surgical treatment and hopefully a mechanism for preserving an individual’s eyesight.’
Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said: ’The partnerships that have been established between the UK and CIRM have brought us closer to delivering the promise of stem cell treatments for debilitating conditions. We hope these projects will accelerate treatments to early clinical trials, eventually leading to a direct benefit for people suffering from age-related macular degeneration, which up until now has been regarded as incurable and also acute myeloid leukaemia. The MRC has led the way for UK translational researchers and together with our partners at CIRM we look forward to realising the full potential of stem cell research.’