Embryonic Stem Cell Tissue For Corneas

An Eye Care Professional Can Explain the Best Way to Treat Your Eye Condition

At Dr. Dorothy Park & Associates in Columbia, South Carolina, we stay focused on the latest treatments for all varieties of eye conditions. One of these conditions is a damaged cornea.

Embryonic Stem Cells Can Heal Your Damaged Cornea

What is a Cornea?

It is the tough, clear layer of tissue covering the eye that provides two-thirds of its refractive power. It also protects the eye from debris and infection. Limbal stem cells at the border of cornea and sclera (white of the eye) maintain the health of the eye.  While the cornea self-heals up to a point, once its limbal stem cells are damaged, the cornea can no longer recover from injury.

How Are Corneas Repaired?

For over a hundred years, eye surgeons have replaced damaged and diseased corneas with cadaver donations. Unfortunately, there is now a shortage. Their use is also obstructed by countries with ethical concerns about stem cell therapy. And what if the cornea is too damaged to be repaired with a transplant?

Embryonic Stem Cells to the Rescue

These basic cells are derived from a 5-day-old embryo fertilized outside a woman's body (in vitro) and can replicate indefinitely in a culture without changing into specialized cells. Whereas embryonic stem cells can grow easily and develop into any cell type, adult stem cells are hard to isolate and can only develop into their tissue of origin. However, being from the patient's own body, adult stem cells seem to be less prone to rejection.

Scientists at Sahlgrenska Academy were the first to grow stem cells on a human cornea. The results (published in journal Acta Ophthalmologica) showed how human stem cells could develop into "epithelial cells" (outermost corneal cells) after being cultured in vitro for sixteen days and cultured another six days on a cornea. The epithelial cells maintain the clarity of our corneas.

First Time Stem Cells Grow on Human Corneas

Scientist Charles Hanson explained that while other experiments had been performed on animals, this was the first time that stem cells had been grown on damaged human corneas. This was how ophthalmic science took the first step toward using stem cells to treat damaged corneas.

Scientist Ulf Stenevi added that if scientists could establish a routine way of doing this, the availability of stem cells for patients who needed a new cornea would be virtually unlimited. This would simplify the surgical procedures and the aftercare.

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