By Calvin Palmer
Scientists in Australia have made a breakthrough in restoring the sight of people with damaged corneas.
University of New South Wales medical researchers coated an ordinary contact lens with stem cells to treat three patients, whose vision improved within weeks.
The results are published in the journal Transplant.
Stem cells were harvested from the eyes of each patient and then cultured inside a contact lens, which was then stuck on to a damaged cornea in a “transplant” of regenerative cells.
“The procedure is totally simple and cheap,” said Dr Nick Di Girolamo. “Unlike other techniques, there’s no suturing, no major operation, all that’s involved is harvesting a minute amount — less than a millimeter — of tissue from the ocular surface.”
The lens is kept in place for 10 days to allow the stem cells to change their form, colonize and repair the cornea.
Two of the patients involved in the trial had suffered extensive corneal damage to one eye, caused by multiple surgeries to remove cancerous growths.
Di Girolamo said that in these cases the stem cells were taken from their healthy eye – but the third patient posed an additional challenge because of a congenital disorder which affected both eyes.
“We took them from another part of the eye altogether — the conjunctiva which also harbours stem cells,” he said.
“The stem cells were able to change from the conjunctival phenotype to a corneal phenotype after we put them on to the cornea. That’s the beauty of stem cells.”
[Based on a report by the Melbourne Herald Sun.]