A revolutionary new treatment that could cure certain types of blindness is to be trialled in Britain, it was announced.
Scientists are confident patients with corneal blindness could regain their sight through an innovative technique involving adult stem cells.
A two-year trial of around 20 patients will begin this month in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
If successful, the treatment could be rolled out to the millions of people worldwide who suffer from corneal blindness, 80% of whom are elderly.
Unlike the more controversial embryonic stem cell research, the technique takes stem cells from dead adult donors. Once removed, the cells are cultivated before being transplanted onto the surface of the cornea.
Stem cells are a source of great scientific interest as a result of their ability to renew and multiply indefinitely, potentially regenerating entire organs from only a few cells.
The trial is being headed by Professor Bal Dhillon at the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh, working with the Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow.
Professor Dhillon said: "This study is the first of its kind anywhere in the world and it is exciting to be involved in such groundbreaking work. I probably see two or three new cases of corneal disease every month. On a larger scale, it's a significant problem."
The trial will hope to emulate the success of a similar study in the United States in September last year.
In trials at the University of Pennsylvania, subjects with inherited blindness experienced dramatic improvements in vision after a corrective gene was injected into the eye.