A joint study of the Indian and American stem cell researchers has achieved a breakthrough that stem cells in eye possess the ability to restore eye health back to original status even after getting affected by scarring or whitening of the cornea that leads to blindness.
In their experiment, the scientists retrieved stromal stem cells from the limbus or area between the white and black part of the eyeball, which were applied to damaged corneas and the result was amazingly surprising as they healed and became clear within a month’s time.
The experiment was conducted by Hyderabad-based Dr. Sayan Basu, consultant corneal surgeon and scientist, L V Prasad Eye Institute and Prof. James L. Funderburgh of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the US.
Cornea-related infections or injuries affect 250 million people worldwide and 6 million of them are blinded. “We found that when the stem cells were applied to damaged corneas they healed and became clear again within four weeks of treatment, while those untreated remained clouded,” said Dr. Sayan Basu.
His associate Dr. Funderburgh noted that the resultant difference between the tissues that were treated with stem cells and undamaged cornea was almost nil even at the microscopic level. “We were also excited to see that the stem cells appeared to induce healing beyond the immediate vicinity of where they were placed. That suggests the cells are producing factors that promote regeneration, not just replacing lost tissue,” he adds.
The findings, published in Science Translational Medicine, may help discard the time-consuming cornea replacement surgery on borrowed organ donations and help restore clear vision for millions of people worldwide, the researchers said. In India alone, more than 2 lakh people are in the waiting list for cornea or eye donation.
It will also replace all corneal transplant-related problems like life-long medication, follow-up consultancy and stitch removal from time to time, said Dr. Basu.
The stem cell therapy requires no more than a few minutes with minimal anesthesia and no sutures are required, nor there any need for donors or fear of rejection and failure, It is currently on a pilot-clinical trial at L V Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad.
Once successful, the therapy would bring dramatic reduction in blind people but those born blind cannot be treated.