The use of stem cells in the treatment of diseases such as AMD or diabetic retinopathy was one of the developments that attracted most interest from the 350 specialists in attendance in Barcelona.
Embryonic or pluripotent stem cells to replace damaged retina cells
The American Marco Zarbin explained that phase I studies on humans have already demonstrated how the use of stem cells to replace damaged retina cells manages to improve the visual acuity of patients. This treatment is used on patients who have lost their photoreceptor and/or pigment epithelium cells, a type of cells that do not regenerate and which are essential for vision.
What is being achieved with the new treatments is the replacement of these cells with embryonic or pluripotent stem cells extracted from the skin or other parts of the eye, which, after being changed, are able to develop the same function as the damaged retina cells. This treatment is now entering its trial phase and has demonstrated very good results in patients with retina dystrophies, retinitis pigmentosa and AMD.
New target for AMD treatments with very effective results
More specifically, another of the developments presented at the conference was the application, also in phase 1, of new treatments for AMD, through the injection of molecules with a different action mechanism to previous therapies, which they could replace or complement. According to the specialists in attendance in Barcelona, the treatment involves an important change of target since these new molecules act on the cells involved in AMD, which were not acted on until now, "providing more effective results".
Robotic surgery techniques: “10 times less trembling”
As regards robotic surgery, the Dutchman Marco Mura explained that the new robots assisting surgeons in ophthalmological procedures achieve 10 times less trembling than the human hand, from 100 microns at which a surgeon's hand may tremble to 10 microns for the machine. These robots are already being used to cannulate veins and to introduce substances or guidewires (small catheters) into them to open thrombi. These machines act in a similar way to a flight simulator, since the robot reproduces precisely, within the eye, the movements that the surgeon performs externally.
Intraocular injections, another of the conference's key topics
The application of intraocular injections that release drugs into the eye over weeks or months was another of the conference's key topics. According to specialists, around 60% of patients treated with these therapies recover their vision compared with 20% with other techniques. In addition, this treatment avoids risks associated with surgery, the number of which has been reduced by almost half in recent years.
Microplasmin, a promising substance
The ophthalmologists discussed a new substance, microplasmin, which, when injected into the eye, is able to separate the vitreous from the retina, and can be applied preventively against the threat of macular hole or to resolve abnormal adhesions, serious retinal problems that required surgery up until now. "With this new substance, pending marketing in Europe, it is likely that we can also avoid a large number of procedures”, according to Dr Borja Corcóstegui, a retina specialist and director of the Conference.
Live retina surgery from IMO operating theatres
The live surgery session meant attendees could follow 9 operations performed in 4 IMO operating theatres almost simultaneously. According to Dr Corcóstegui, "During the surgeries, we tackled complex cases of retinal detachment, patients with high myopia and macular problems or proliferative diabetic retinopathy, using the most advanced techniques currently available that are being pioneered in only a handful of centres worldwide".