Hyderabad: Unapproved centres providing stem cell treatment for age-related macular degeneration is putting the health of patients at risk. These centres claim complete restoration of vision but there have been mixed results in clinical trials.
The procedure is still far from approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research for general use and is being tried and tested at a few select approved centres in major cities.
The claims made by unapproved centres came to light when patients who were offered this treatment opted for a second opinion from other renowned eye centres, and found that stem cell treatment was not standard procedure.
Patients who come from far away districts are often coaxed into believing that the vision will be completely restored after this treatment, but it is not so.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in those above 60 years of age. Age, diet, sunlight, smoking and genes are responsible for AMD, affecting women more than men.
Dr Raja Narayanan, chief of clinical research and consultant for Vitreo Retinal Diseases at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, said, “Stem cell treatment for AMD has not reached a stage where it can be performed with a certain degree of success. It is not an approved treatment for standard use. In advanced stages of AMD injections are recommended.”
In practice, it has been found that patients and their families get so desperate for a cure that they are willing to try these treatments and unapproved centres take advantage of this.
Dr Kasu Prasad Reddy, senior eye surgeon for cataract and refractive errors, explained, “Many clinics offering stem cell treatments make claims that they can restore the vision completely. But that is not so. They do not have the current understanding to stem cell science.” He said the treatment was for the surface of the eye but not in clinical practice of management of AMD.
People don’t realise mistake until it’s too late
How do people know which centre is approved or not? Many of them who go for eye treatments believe the doctor and only a second opinion gives them a different view.
A senior eye doctor on condition of anonymity said, “AMD has become a business for many centres as many of the senior citizens who have degeneration are offered surgical or laser interventions by retina specialists when it is not required. This has become a standard protocol.”
He said that it is only when the vision further reduces that patients and their family members raise a hue and cry. “Any treatment of stem cells or other interventions offered for AMD must be cross-checked with established clinics before opting for treatment. We find several patients of AMD who have been fleeced for `50,000 to `70,000 for treatments which are not required.”
So far, only a second opinion from a retina specialist or an eye surgeon is being seen as a resort for patients to cross-check before opting for treatment. There is no open forum where they can access whether the treatment is a standard procedure, approved or still in clinical stage. With a large number of senior citizens opting for eye care in AMD it is very important for the relatives to be alert.