Stem cells from human corneas may normalise vision

April 9th, 2009 - 5:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 9 (IANS) Stem cells from human corneas restored transparency when injected into eyes that were scarred and hazy, without triggering rejection, according to experiments on mice.
These findings suggest that cell-based therapies might be effective in treating corneal blindness and vision impairment due to the scarring that occurs after infection, trauma and other common eye problems, said senior investigator James L. Funderburgh.

Funderburgh, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh (U-P) School of Medicine, said: “Our experiments indicate that after stem cell treatment, mouse eyes that initially had corneal defects looked no different than mouse eyes that had never been damaged.”

The ability to grow millions of the cells in the lab could make it possible to create an off-the-shelf product, which would be especially useful in countries that have limited medical and surgical resources but a great burden of eye disease due to infections and trauma.

“Corneal scars are permanent, so the best available solution is corneal transplant,” Funderburgh said.

“Transplants have a high success rate, but they don’t last forever. The current popularity of LASIK corrective eye surgery is expected to substantially reduce the availability of donor tissue because the procedure alters the cornea in a way that makes it unsuitable for transplantation.”

A few years ago, Funderburgh and other U-P researchers identified stem cells in a layer of the cornea called the stroma, and they recently showed that even after many rounds of expansion in the lab, these cells continued to produce the biochemical components, or matrix, of the cornea.

One such protein is called lumican, which plays a critical role in giving the cornea the correct structure to make it transparent, said an U-P release.

These findings are slated for publication in Stem Cells and appears online Thursday.

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