Background: Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is caused by abnormal retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and may be complicated by choroidal neovascularization. The object of treatment would be to replace the diseased RPE with normal human RPE.
Method: Five patients with ARMD (preoperative visual acuity 0.08-0.2) underwent removal of subretinal fibrovascular membranes using pars plana vitrectomy techniques. Human fetal RPE (15-17 weeks gestational age) was cultured and transplanted as a monolayer patch into the subretinal space. Transplants were followed by funduscopy and fluorescein angiography. Macular function was assessed using scanning laser ophthalmoscopic (SLO) microperimetry.
Results: Three RPE transplants were placed in the fovea; two were placed parafoveally. All transplants have survived for 3 months. They have grown and increased in size covering part of the epithelial defect caused by removal of the fibrovascular membrane. SLO microperimetry indicated that visual function was present in four of the transplants at 1 month but in only two at 3 months after surgery. Function over the transplants, especially those in the fovea, was compromised by cystoidlike macular edema.
Conclusions: Human fetal RPE transplants survive well in the macula for as long as 3 months. They are capable of growing to cover epithelial defects caused by removal of subretinal neovascular membranes. The causes for development of macular edema in transplants directly in the fovea warrant further evaluation.