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Extended wear contact lenses coated in corneal stem cells have been used to successfully restore vision in three patients. Doctors with the project describe the treatment as cheap, simple, and highly promising..  (Source: GizMag)
File this one under cool -- stem cells cure blindness

While electronic eyeballs may eventually be a solution to restore sight for the visually impaired, or even to enhance vision for those with normal eyesight, they still are very crude and may have a long way to go.  In a classic race between electronics and biotechnology, it appears that biotechnology may have caught up with an incredible solution to restoring vision.

Scientists and the University of New South Wales in Australia cultured corneal stem cells on extended wear contact lenses.  They then cleaned the corneas of three patients -- two of whom were legally blind and one with limited vision (they could read the biggest row of the vision chart) -- and had the patient start wearing the lens. 

Amazingly, within 10 to 14 days the stem cells had reentered the cornea and began to recolonize it.  UNSW’s Dr Nick Di Girolamo describes, "The procedure is totally simple and cheap.  Unlike other techniques, it requires no foreign human or animal products, only the patient’s own serum, and is completely non-invasive."

The two legally blind patients can now read the top row of a vision chart, while the vision impaired patient can read enough of the chart to get their driver's license.

The technique still has unknowns.  While the patients have regained vision, lasting for over 18 months, there's a chance the gains won't last.  While the cornea has no blood supply and gets its oxygen from the air, but it remains to be seen whether the blind patient's tear fluid is sufficient to sustain the new eye tissue in the long term.

Still, Dr. Di Girolamo says the technique looks promising and holds promise even to patients with damage to both eyes.  Dr. Girolamo states, "One of our patients had aniridia, a congenital condition affecting both eyes.  In that case, instead of taking the stem cells from the other cornea, we took them from another part of the eye altogether – the conjunctiva – which also harbors stem cells."

Corneal diseases are a leading cause of blindness.  According to the World Health Organization, damage to this delicate organ causes 1.5 million people to lose sight in one of their eyes every year.

The UNSW team is looking to expand the work to cover other types of ocular damage.  Previous research by other teams has shown that stem cells could potentially be used to grow entire eyeballs.  They also believe the technique could be applied to regrowing skin and other damaged tissues.



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RE: Stem cell source
By smackababy on 6/4/2009 10:02:41 AM , Rating: 5
I think this is opening a can of worms, but I'll bite anyway. While using a patient's stem cells is probably better suited all around, it may not always be an option.


RE: Stem cell source
By acase on 6/4/2009 10:14:34 AM , Rating: 1
Well hell if you'll smack a baby why not off one to benefit 10 real people?


RE: Stem cell source
By acase on 6/4/2009 10:55:12 AM , Rating: 2
kidding...good lord people


RE: Stem cell source
By monkeyman1140 on 6/5/2009 4:42:04 PM , Rating: 2
What about sperm? If we ban research on embryos, let's ban the waste of sperm!

Men should not be allowed to destroy sperm under prosecution by law.


RE: Stem cell source
By Mitch101 on 6/4/2009 10:28:51 AM , Rating: 2
I saw a program not long where where they do something similar to people with lower intestine issues. They can take some sort of bacteria from a healthy persons lower intestine track and put that into the sick persons lower intestines and it repairs the persons intestinal track.

I know that doesn't sound right and opens up a number of jokes but this Eye procedure reminded me of that.

Maybe the cure is not medication but cutting up all the healthy people for parts? :)


RE: Stem cell source
By Quijonsith on 6/4/2009 10:55:56 AM , Rating: 3
But if you can't keep up with your payments for your new parts, the repo man will come and collect.

(Nothing like a good genetic opera)


RE: Stem cell source
By ClownPuncher on 6/4/2009 12:24:51 PM , Rating: 2
Really? You refer to a horrible movie(Repo) instead of Bladerunner?


RE: Stem cell source
By Quijonsith on 6/4/2009 12:56:35 PM , Rating: 2
I'll probably get bashed for this, but I've never seen bladerunner. I'll have to look it up.

Besides, how can you say Repo was horrible when Paris Hilton's face falls off as she storms off stage in embarrasment. One of the best parts of the movie.


RE: Stem cell source
By MRwizard on 6/5/2009 11:56:14 AM , Rating: 2
hahaha, i am so going to wach this movie now!


RE: Stem cell source
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 6/4/2009 2:02:47 PM , Rating: 3
That just has to do with reculturing healthy bacteria colonies in a person's intestinal tracts, the same thing that Activia yogurt and other pro-biotic products do. Its like when baby elephants eat their parents' dung, to colonize their intestinal tract with bacteria. The eyeball thing has to do with re-generating damaged or missing tissue, not putting foreign bacteria colonies in it.


RE: Stem cell source
By Headfoot on 6/5/2009 3:15:20 PM , Rating: 2
I'll stick to Activia, thanks.


RE: Stem cell source
By thebitdnd on 6/5/2009 9:25:20 AM , Rating: 2
Using an adult person's own stem cells is preferrable, but not always possible (at least not yet). Stem cells in adults are not as flexible as embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can differentiate into just about any other form, whereas adult stem cells are more specialized. Adult corneal stem cells may only be able to differentiate for use in corneal applications whereas an embryoinc stem cell has the potential to become corneal cells, liver cells, kidney cells, etc. With enough time and research, adult stem cells may just be as utile, but embryonic stem cells are considered 'easier' to work with as they are a bit more of a blank slate.

Stem cells, in any form, are not without their drawbacks. There are those who work with them that fear increased incidences of cancer may be evidenced since you are encouraging these cells to proliferate artificially, but there isn't really supporting research for this as of yet.


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