IT IS a major medical breakthrough that has the potential to cure blindness.

Eye experts in Southampton are celebrating a groundbreaking discovery that could lead to a new procedure to treat and cure blinding eye conditions.

Pioneering work by Professor Andrew Lotery and his team at the University of Southampton has found specific cells in the front of the eye that could be used to replace diseased cells in the back of the eye.

This could lead to new treatments for conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa or wet age-related macular degeneration – a condition which is a common cause of vision loss in older people and will affect about one in three people in the UK by age 70.

But with a lot of work still needed before patients can benefit, Prof Lotery is appealing to Daily Echo readers to do their bit and help fund the vital work that could make blindness a thing of the past.

The study found that corneal limbal stromal cells have stem cell properties that could be grown to create retina cells to replace the damaged ones causing blindness.

This process would pose little risk of rejection as the cells would be returned to the same patient.

It has been hailed a promising discovery as the cells are in one of the most accessible regions of the human eye. However, more research will be needed to develop any new procedure.

The next step for Prof Lotery and his team will be to demonstrate that the cells they have found and grown in the lab can be reintroduced into the eye to improve sight.

If that proves a success then clinical trials would be needed. These would take an estimated five years at a cost of about £1m.

Prof Lotery, who is also a consultant ophthalmologist at Southampton General Hospital, said: “This is an important step for our research into the prevention and treatment of eye conditions and blindness.

“We are now investigating whether these cells could be taken from the front of the eye and be used to replace diseased cells in the back of the eye in the retina.

“If successful this would open up new and efficient ways of treating people who have blinding conditions.

“It is very exciting but there is still a long way to go and funding is a major part of that.

“The more people support us through the Gift of Sight, the quicker we can drive this work forward.”

The research was funded by the National Eye Research Centre, Rosetree Trust and the Gift of Sight charity, which was set up by Prof Lotery to fund the groundbreaking work in Southampton.

To help fund the vital work by Professor Lotery and his team in Southampton by either making a donation or organising a charity event call 023 8059 9073 or email