The prestigious BBC and HBO TV series ‘Years and Years’, a family, political and dystopian drama that has stirred critics and viewers with its ambitious subject matter, addresses age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in the fifth episode of its first season and shows a possible treatment for the disease and its results in the near future. The results of the research that we conduct at the Barcelona Macula Foundation can be seen in the episode
‘Years and Years’ begins in the present day and follows the members of the Lyons family for 15 years. Over this period of time, we see the changes affecting the family, contextualised at a time when the political reality is increasingly unstable and society is subject to various economic, social and technological changes. In the fifth episode, one of the characters is diagnosed with atrophic AMD and receives treatment. It is here that viewers can glimpse the result of projects that research centres like the Barcelona Macula Foundation are currently undertaking. Going blind through AMD “is a thing of the past,” the fictional medical team tell the main character.
The treatment that, according to the HBO and BBC co-production, enables vision to be recovered is the creation of a graft from a stem cell, which is cultured and then transplanted into the eye. Currently, AMD represents the leading cause of blindness in developed countries, and there is no cure for the atrophic or dry type. However, the Barcelona Macula Foundation (BMF) is engaged in several lines of research to slow its progression and find a cure.
Just like the treatment that appears in ‘Years and Years’, the BMF is conducting various pieces of research related to stem cells and gene therapy, considered to be the “next generation” of vision treatments.
The clinical trial developed by the Israeli biotechnology company Cell Cure Neurosciences, in which the founder of the Barcelona Macula Foundation and Director of the Institut de la Màcula, Dr Jordi Monés, MD, PhD, participates as a scientific advisor, uses a patented formulation of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and pigment epithelial cells (RPE) derived from stem cells. This new therapy provides RPE cells in suspended form to replace the cells lost due to the disease. “It is a path that remains complex but it is an exciting one. Recently, it has been possible to implant stem cells with the right shape and markers, that is, without rejection having taken place and achieving a good survival rate for them,” Dr Monés says.
The Barcelona Macula Foundation (BMF), as a partner of the ADVANCE(CAT) European project, has for years been committed to cell therapy research for regenerative purposes. Since the beginning of the project in 2016 up to now, the BMF, together with the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona (CMRB), the Blood and Tissue Bank (BST) and the Miguel Hernández University (UMH), have validated the capacity of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) to differentiate into RPE cells and be implanted and survive in the retina of an animal model.
Research into AMD is essential not only to find a cure for the disease, but also to slow its progression, in its two atrophic and exudative types. The major challenge is to find a treatment that can stop age-related macular degeneration, together with others that enable the atrophic retina to recover or regenerate.
Currently, the Barcelona Macula Foundation, in close collaboration with the Institut de la Màcula, has opened a recruitment process for a phase III clinical trial to treat AMD in its exudative type with a state-of-the-art, long-lasting drug.
The ultimate goal, as the medical team in ‘Years and Years’ stressed, is to make atrophic and exudative AMD a thing of the past in the not too distant future.
Image source: HBO Spain