A revolutionary technique that promises to restore the sight of millions has been carried out for the first time worldwide in a British hospital.
Taking as little as 45 minutes, the procedure offers hope to those with age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in adults globally.
It affects more than 600,000 adults in the UK, blighting the lives of a quarter of the over-60s.
In the breakthrough developed at University College London, doctors inserted a patch of stem cells into the retina of a woman who has lost her central vision.
They hope the procedure, carried out at Moorfields Eye Hospital in the capital, will restore the 60-year-old’s sight but will not know the outcome until December.
However, doctors said she suffered no complications and her eye is recovering well from the procedure.
This first operation has begun a clinical trial involving ten patients. If successful, the technique could be available on the NHS within two-and-a-half years.
The procedure, which has attracted the support of medical giant Pfizer, is carried out under local anaesthetic. It involves taking a single embryonic stem cell and growing it into a 6mm patch of 100,000 retinal pigment cells.
That patch is then rolled into a thin tube, which is injected through a tiny slit in the eye.
Once unfurled, it is placed behind the retina where scientists hope it will replace the faulty cells.
The operation is a milestone in the London Project to Cure Blindness established ten years ago with the aim of curing vision loss in patients with age-related macular degeneration.
The first step has been carried out on the wet form of the condition when a patient bleeds at the back of the eye. But scientists are confident it could also be used for the more common dry AMD, which affects 85 per cent of British sufferers.