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Eye For an Eye

Posted by Lauren Rugani on June 11, 2009

In the first medical therapy of its kind, University of New South Wales doctors effectively restored sight in patients with degenerative eye disease or damage with stems cells from the patients’ own eyes. The treatment is simple, cheap and completely non-invasive, which keeps post-op hospital stays to a minimum, say the researchers.

They begin by harvesting stem cells from a patient’s cornea and growing the cells on a therapeutic contact lens normally used to protect the surface of the eye after surgery. In the trial, only one type of this contact lens was compatible with stem cell growth, which the researchers did not explain but suggest is due to the specific combination of components unique to that lens. The contact is then placed on the damaged cornea for 10 days, which allows the stem cells to recolonize on the surface and replace damaged cells with healthy, functioning ones.

Two of the three patients in the trial suffered from extensive corneal damage in one eye from previous surgeries; doctors used corneal stem cells from the healthy eye to rehabilitate the damage. But the third patient, however, had a genetic condition called aniridia, which prevents normal vision development and usually occurs in both eyes. Instead of taking corneal stem cells, the team gathered cells from the conjunctiva (the mucus that lines the whites of the eyes and inside of the eyelids). “The stem cells were able to change from the conjunctiva [type] to the corneal [type] after we put them onto the cornea. That’s the beauty of stem cells,” said Dr. Nick Di Girolamo, lead author of the study, in a UNSW press release.

The team believes with more work the treatment could be used for a range of blinding eye conditions, including injury from burns, bacterial infection or chemotherapy, and eventually in other parts of the eye or in organs such as the skin, which behave similary to the cornea. Check out a first-hand video of the operation, courtesy of UNSWTV, below.


One Response to “Eye For an Eye”

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