NEWARK, Calif., Oct. 4, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- StemCells, Inc. (Nasdaq:STEM) today announced that the first patient in its Phase I/II clinical trial in dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has been enrolled and transplanted. The trial is designed to evaluate the safety and preliminary efficacy of the Company's proprietary HuCNS-SC ® product candidate (purified human neural stem cells) as a treatment for dry AMD, and the patient was transplanted with the cells yesterday at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest (RFSW) in Dallas, Texas, one of the leading independent vision research centers in the United States. AMD afflicts approximately 30 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in people over 55 years of age. "This trial signifies an exciting extension of our on-going clinical research with neural stem cells from disorders of the brain and spinal cord to now include the eye," said Stephen Huhn, MD, FACS, FAAP, Vice President and Head of the CNS Program at StemCells, Inc. "Studies in the relevant animal model demonstrate that the Company's neural stem cells preserve vision in animals that would otherwise go blind and support the therapeutic potential of the cells to halt retinal degeneration. Unlike others in the field, we are looking to intervene early in the course of the disease with the goal of preserving visual function before it is lost." David G. Birch, Ph.D., Chief Scientific and Executive Officer of the RFSW and Director of the Rose-Silverthorne Retinal Degenerations Laboratory and principal investigator of the study, added, "We are excited to be working with StemCells on this ground breaking clinical trial. There currently are no effective treatments for dry AMD, which is the most common form of the disease, and there is a clear need to explore novel therapeutic approaches." In February 2012 , the Company published preclinical data that demonstrated HuCNS-SC cells protect host photoreceptors and preserve vision in the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) rat, a well-established animal model of retinal disease which has been used extensively to evaluate potential cell therapies. Moreover, the number of cone photoreceptors, which are responsible for central vision, remained constant over an extended period, consistent with the sustained visual acuity and light sensitivity observed in the study. In humans, degeneration of the cone photoreceptors accounts for the unique pattern of vision loss in dry AMD. The data was published in the international peer-reviewed European Journal of Neuroscience. About Age-Related Macular Degeneration Age-related macular degeneration refers to a loss of photoreceptors (rods and cones) from the macula, the central part of the retina. AMD is a degenerative retinal disease that typically strikes adults in their 50s or early 60s, and progresses painlessly, gradually destroying central vision. According to the RFSW website, there are approximately 1.75 million Americans age 40 years and older with some form of age-related macular degeneration, and the disease continues to be the number one cause of irreversible vision loss among senior citizens in the United States with more than seven million at risk of developing AMD.