MD Stem Cells studies treatment for NAION


Pioneer Founding member
July 13, 2018

Steven Levy, MD, and his MD Stem Cells team have seen statistically significant results using stem cells to fight degenerative eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and non-arteritic ischemic optic neuropathy.

In the NAION study, 10 patients with bilateral visual loss due to sequential non-arteritic ischemic optic neuropathy underwent autologous bone marrow-derived stem cell (BMSC) therapy in the Stem Cell Ophthalmology Treatment Study (SCOTS).

Average patient age was 69.8 years, with an average duration of 9.8 years of visual loss.

Affected eyes were treated with either ocular injections of BMSC or vitrectomy with intraocular BMSC, both followed by intravenous administration. The injections were performed by a retinal surgeon who invented a cannulation technique, Levy told Primary Care Optometry News.
Patients had bilateral or sequential NAION. Most eyes were functionally blind or very close to it, he said.

The improvements were all statistically significant, he said.

After therapy, 80% of patients experienced improvement in Snellen binocular vision, with 20% remaining stable, researchers wrote. A total of 73.6% of those treated gained vision, and 15.9% remained stable in the 1-year postoperative period.

There was an average of 3.53 Snellen lines of vision improvement per eye with an average of 22.74% (and a maximum of 83.3%) improvement in logMAR acuity per eye, according to the study. The average logMAR change in treated eyes was a gain of 0.364.

Researchers noted meaningful visual improvements in a significant percentage of the NAION patients typically within 6 months of the procedure.

“Possible mechanisms by which visual improvement occurred may include BMSC paracrine secretion of proteins and hormones, transfer of mitochondria, release of messenger RNA or other compounds via exosomes or microvesicles and neuronal transdifferentiation of the stem cells,” they wrote.

Levy recommends that optometrists who diagnose NAION and are familiar with it should consider referring patients to the study.

“We are one of the few groups in the world working with stem cells in the treatment of optic nerve disease,” he said. “Our approach has achieved statistically significant results in NAION and shown improvements in glaucoma, Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, dominant optic atrophy and other conditions.”

In another year or two his group will have more data to write another, more comprehensive paper about the treatment, he said.

Levy warns optometrists that, “there are hundreds of clinics that are doing adipose, fat or stromal vascular fraction, where fat is typically sucked out of the love handle area. It’s completely different than bone marrow in terms of what it does.”

His group has a comanagement relationship with the optometric community.

“We can compensate participating optometrists for managing and forwarding the patient data to us following any eye disease treated in SCOTS,” Levy said. “The data is extremely important; all our patients provide permission for us to have their follow-up exams and we are willing to offer help in order to have that information.

“We appreciate referring optometrists providing post-treatment care for their own patients because they know them best and can detect any changes more readily,” he continued.

“While it is extremely important that the treatment is done correctly, what is equally important is patient follow-up,” Levy said. “We find that the patients who have strong optometric relationships are more willing to cooperate and do follow-up. We have been very impressed with the attentiveness of the optometric community.” –by Abigail Sutton

Disclosure : Levy is CEO of MD Stem Cells.

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