The only treatment option is regular injections into the eye which can only slow progression depending on the stage of the disease.

Whilst Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) takes years to develop, for Jim Overton, 69, his sight declined within hours.

“At first I thought the new bi-focal glasses I had just picked up were the wrong prescription. Everything was blurry. I was unable to watch TV” Jim said.

“I went back to the optometrist and shortly after was sent to see an ophthalmologist and was diagnosed with AMD.” 

Now, Jim is one of the lucky ones. His sight has improved through regular injections performed at the Queensland Eye Institute by retinal specialist Associate Professor Anthony Kwan, who also treats Jim’s father, Keith to keep a more advanced case of AMD under control.

Not every story is like Jim’s and not every story is the same. Treatment is not suitable or effective in all cases, and without early detection it may not be enough to slow the degenerative process. Injections that Jim and his father are receiving are effective in the “wet” form of AMD and they can become expensive. 

But what if there was a way to stop, or even reverse this condition with a single routine procedure?

Our eyes contain photoreceptor cells which convert light into signals our brain can understand. These rely on a layer of supporting cells, known as RPE cells, to supply nutrients and remove waste. As we age, these RPE cells can become inefficient and die. When this happens, photoreceptor cells start to die too, resulting in a loss of central vision. 

Right now, scientists at the Queensland Eye Institute are working on an exciting cellular therapy treatment that could prevent the progression of vision loss caused by AMD.

Led by Dr Audra Shadforth and Professor Damien Harkin the regenerative medicine research team is developing a way to replace tired RPE cells with new, functional adult stem cells on an innovative, biomaterial membrane. This could potentially be a treatment for both forms of AMD. 

This membrane is manufactured from a protein drawn from the cocoons of silk moth larvae. The protein, silk fibroin, has been used in medicine for centuries as sutures, due to its strength, flexibility and response within our bodies.

Our team has refined the formulation(1) of these membranes and performed evaluations in the laboratory using human RPE cells. 

Preclinical studies have already been conducted, and we have formed important collaborations in order to use the latest stem cell technology with our silk biomaterial membranes.

The next phase of our research is evaluating the ability of the replacement cellular therapy to support existing photoreceptor cells, and reconstruct the retinal architecture damaged by AMD. 

Our ultimate goal is to restore full functionality of the retina through a routine implant procedure, similar to how we currently treat cataracts. 

With age being the most significant risk factor for AMD, the number of Australians likely to suffer the debilitating effects of vision impairment and blindness will inevitably rise. 

We need your help to continue to equip our researchers who are making real advances in this field. 

With your help of a tax-deductible donation* today, we can continue this vital research and change the lives of millions. 


*Donations of $2 or more are tax-deductible. 

1. Shadforth, A. M. A., Suzuki, S., Theodoropoulos, C., Richardson, N. A., Chirila, T. V., & Harkin, D. G. (2015). A Bruch’s membrane substitute fabricated from silk fibroin supports the function of retinal pigment epithelial cells in vitro. Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.

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