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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 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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