Stem cells cure the blind
Milan – Italian researchers have restored sight to blind patients using stem cells from the patients’ own bodies. In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine (10.1056/NEJMoa0905955), scientists from Modena and Milan treated 106 patients whose eyes had been severely damaged by chemical burns. The researchers derived the stem cells from the respective patient’s own eyes, specifically from around the limbus, the rim around the cornea where stem cells are naturally produced by the body to repair it.
The cells were then induced to multiply. Once they had enough stem cells, the researchers removed the scar tissue on the blinded eyes and grafted the stem cells onto the cornea. The graft then began to regenerate new corneal tissue. After 12 to 24 months, the grafts were followed up by corrective surgeries. All in all, the treatment had a 77% success rate – and some of the recoveries were quite remarkable. One patient had burned both his eyes severely with alkali back in 1948. The researchers were able to adapt and derive limbal stem-cell cultures with biopsied tissue taken from the patient’s left eye. The therapy successfully restored both corneal surfaces, returning normal, combined vision (around 20/30) to a patient who had been blind for over 60 years.