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Reversing Blindness with Stem Cell Therapy Imagine an accident at work leaves you blind for sixty years. And now a new medical procedure gives you your sight back.

You'd probably feel like you'd been given a miracle.

It not quite a miracle but it is fascinating research. Scientists in Italy found a way to reverse blindness in people whose corneas were damaged by chemical burns.

The cornea is the clear layer on the surface of the eye.

Although artificial and donated corneas are treatment options, both can involve complications. Another option being tried involves stem cells.

In our corneas is an area called limbus, which contains stem cells that continue to replace dead corneal cells.

When chemical burns destroy our limbus, stem cells also die. That means corneal cells are not replaced and scar tissue begins to form, impairing the person's eyesight.

There have been attempts to transplant limbus tissue from the healthy eye to the scarred eye, but half the limbus would have to be transplanted to ensure enough stem cells are present to generate new corneal cells.

However, making a mistake while trying to remove such a large area of limbus tissue would risk losing sight in the healthy eye.

Except, the Italian researchers used bioengineering to get around this. They took just a small number of stem cells from an undamaged area of the eye to grow in the lab. They grew new cells in a sheet, then transplanted it over the area where the scarred cornea was removed so it could begin generating new corneal cells.

Of the one hundred twenty one patients who were treated, an astounding eighty-two (or two-thirds of the patients) got their sight back. Fourteen had partial restoration.

The procedure is possible even when both eyes are damaged, as long as there is enough limbal tissue to collect stem cells to expand in the laboratory. This is the ultimate in fix it yourself.

 

For more information…

Limbal Stem-Cell Therapy and Long Term Corneal Regeneration.
New England Journal of Medicine 2010, (10.1056/NEJMoa0905955)
Original journal article by the Italian research group reporting on the results of their stem cell transplants procedure.

Stem cells reverse blindness caused by burns. (Alicia Chang - AP Science writer) Bioscience Technology June 23, 2010.
Review of limbal cell therapy highlighting the results of the Italian research reported in the NEJM.

Stem Cell Basics
Excellent background form the National Institutes of Health website. "This primer on stem cells is intended for anyone who wishes to learn more about the biological properties of stem cells, the important questions about stem cells that are the focus of scientific research, and the potential use of stem cells in research and in treating disease. The primer includes information about stem cells derived from embryonic and non-embryonic tissues."
For more information…