Millions of people suffer from damage to their cornea – all occurring from a wide range of injuries that can leave a person with irreversible damage to their eyesight. Corneal issues and injuries are a top cause of visits to eye care clinicians. As expected, losing eyesight is a devastating experience for those who suffer from corneal damage.
Accessing Corneal Treatment
In fact, those who are fortunate may qualify for a cornea transplant but in an ideal world, a solution would involve restoring a person’s eyesight naturally. Even more ideal would be if everyone could access such a treatment, without having to wait for invasive surgery that does not guarantee successful restoration of eyesight.
Repairing the Cornea Using Stem Cells
In a recent study, scientists showed positive results when they tried to restore eyesight after corneal damage had occurred to a patient. The treatment uses the patient’s own stem cells, reducing the concerns about immunological rejection.
By using the patient’s limbal stem cells, which are found at the corneal edge and are unscathed, researchers were able to coax the cells to grow new tissue. This tissue was then grafted into the eyes of the patient. Ten years later, the procedure was still successful.
How is it Different from a Corneal Transplant?
In a corneal transplant, the damaged or diseased part of the cornea – known as the button – is removed and replaced with the donor’s button. As with many transplant procedures, the donor’s body has to match the patient’s or the patient is likely to suffer from immunological rejection. This means their body senses the foreign tissue and attacks it, treating it as an invader.
The new stem cell procedure removes this issue and allows for a patient’s own stem cells to be used, rather than spend time and effort looking for a donor. It opens the door to faster treatment that has a greater chance of success.
Who Benefits from the Stem Cell Treatment?
There are many reasons people can suffer from corneal damage. Researchers particularly want to help those who work in fields where there is a high risk of corneal damage.
This includes people who provide relief for oil spills and are exposed to chemicals that can burn the eyes. Thousands of people suffer from chemical eye burn injuries at work each year and this treatment could save their eyesight.
Other people who may benefit are those who suffer from side-effects that target the eye, such as inflammatory diseases, including lupus and shingles. Once the stem cells regenerate this outer layer of the cornea where damage often occurs, eyesight can be restored.
Eyesight Restored After Stem Cell Treatment
One of the exciting aspects of this research is that a man who had been blind for fifty years had his eyesight restored one year later. While corneal damage implies a need to provide treatment soon after the damage, in reality the treatment can help people after they have suffered from decades of blindness.
Hopefully, we can see more case studies to evaluate any risks and other effects. This will help us safely bring the stem cell treatment to people with corneal damage, giving them back their eyesight.