Russell Turnbull with Dr Francisco Figueiredo   (Source: BBC News)
Patient spared from blindness by cutting edge treatment

There are many methods that promise to help save or restore vision in patients with damaged eyes.  While high-tech solutions like electronic eyeballs may one day provide vision equal to or better than their biological equivalents, for now stem cells remain one of the most promising therapy approaches.

Russell Turnbull, a resident of Consett, County Durham UK, was enjoying a night out in 1994 in Newcastle when a fight broke out on the bus he was traveling.  Mr. Turnbull tried to be a good samaritan and intervene.  He was instead assaulted by one of the combatants splashing ammonia in his right eye.  The chemical damaged his cornea, inducing Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency (LSCD).

He describes, "I was in agony instantly, my eye was clamped shut.  I went home and my mum tried to wash out the chemical and then I went to hospital.  I was in hospital for two weeks and eventually I was able to open the eye again."

LSCD, which affects mostly younger patients, is a painful blinding disease that requires costly frequent hospitalizations and clinical treatment.  Recalls Mr. Turnbull, "It was like looking through scratched Perspex. My eye was sensitive to light, it was constantly watering. I was unable to drive as any bright light would cause me pain."

Researchers at North East England Stem Cell Institute cured Mr. Turnbull of the disorder using stem cells.  The procedure involved extracting stem cells from the good eye, culturing them, and then implanting them in the damaged eye.  Mr. Turnbull was among eight patients to receive the treatment.

Dr Francisco Figueiredo, a consultant eye surgeon, that led the project, describes, "Corneal cloudiness has been estimated to cause blindness in eight million people world wide each year. This new treatment will alleviate patient suffering and remove the need for long term multiple medications as well as returning the patient to functional and social independence."

The treatment has slowly restored Mr. Turbull's vision to normal.  He comments, "I can't thank the staff at the RVI (Royal Victoria Infirmary) enough. This has transformed my life, my eye is almost as good as it was before the accident. I'm working, I can go jet-skiing again and I also ride horses. I have my life back thanks to the operation."

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