Original Article

Stem Cell Ophthalmology Treatment Study: bone marrow derived stem cells in the treatment of Retinitis Pigmentosa

Jeffrey N. Weiss, Steven Levy


Background: Seventeen patients with bilateral visual loss due to Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) underwent autologous bone marrow derived stem cell (BMSC) treatment within the Stem Cell Ophthalmology Treatment Study (SCOTS and SCOTS 2). Both are National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP) compliant Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved clinical studies utilizing using autologous BMSC in the treatment of retinal and optic nerve diseases that meet inclusion criteria.
Methods: The average age of the patients treated was 48.8 years. The average duration of disease prior to treatment was 27.6 years and ranged from 4 to approximately 60 years. Affected eyes were treated with either retrobulbar, subtenons and intravenous BMSC or retrobulbar, subtenons, intravitreal and intravenous. Follow up was provided a minimum of 6 months. The primary outcome was visual acuity as measured by Snellen or converted to LogMAR.
Results: Following therapy in SCOTS or SCOTS 2, 11 patients (64.7%) showed improved binocular vision averaging 10.23 lines of Snellen acuity per eye over pre-treatment acuity; 8 patients (35.3%) remaining stable over the follow up period; no patients experiencing loss of overall acuity. In 33 treated eyes, 15 eyes (45.5%) improved an average of 7.9 lines of Snellen acuity, 15 eyes (45.5%) remained stable, and 3 eyes (9%) worsened by an average of 1.7 lines of Snellen acuity. Improvements ranged from 1 to 27 lines of vision. Using the LogMAR Scale and calculating delta as a ratio to pre-treatment vision in improved eyes, acuity improvement ranged from 23% to 90% with an average of 40.9% visual acuity improvement over baseline vision. Evaluation of all patients and eyes capable of LogMAR vision showed an average of 31% improvement in vision over baseline. Findings were of statistical significance (P=0.016). There were no surgical complications.
Conclusions: The BMSC protocols of the SCOTS achieved meaningful visual acuity improvements or stability in RP that were of statistical significance. Duration of disease did not appear to affect the ability of eyes to respond. Safety was confirmed. Possible mechanisms by which improvement occurred may include transdifferentiation of BMSC into Neuronal Nuclei (NeuN) positive cells, BMSC paracrine secretions or neurotrophic factors and hormones, transfer of mitochondria, release of messenger RNA or other compounds via exosomes or microvesicles. Given the successful outcome in this otherwise progressive condition, consideration should be given to providing this treatment option.

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