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Pioneering Stem Cell Treatment Aids Patients with Rare Eye Disorder

By Lee Gibbs, The Argus, March 15, 2007

In order to improve the sight of people born with a rare genetic eye disorder, British scientists are pioneering a new stem cell therapy.

Stem cells are transplanted on to the surface of the cornea after being grown in a laboratory until the form sheets. The cells themselves are taken from the patients themselves, living relatives, or even dead donors.

The disorder is called aniridia and is very rare. A team from Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead performed the treatments.

The genetic condition results in loss of vision and pain. Individuals are born with no iris and later develop problems on the surface of the eye.

Most patients go on to become almost completely blind, and until now, little could be done for these individuals. The condition affects up to 1,000 people in the UK.

Stem cell treatment appears to halt the progress of the condition says Dr. Daya, who is an eye specialist from Queen Victoria Hospital.

Four patients reported an improvement in vision and comfort after treatment. They were all treated in only one eye and now await treatment in the other.

The patients had few or no limbal stem cells under the eyelid, which helps keep the surface of the cornea healthy and clear. This lack of limbal stem cells resulted in little or no vision in all patients.

The production of new limbal stem cells must have been triggered somehow by the stem cell transplant said Dr. Daya.

"We think the donor cells have attracted stem cells from the bone marrow to make new limbal stem cells, which have arrived at the eye through the bloodstream," he said.

Donor cells could also work on other organs such as the pancreas and liver if they can trigger regeneration in the eyes said Dr. Daya.

"Once we understand what has prompted their growth, then we can understand what they can do for other parts of the body, Daya added.

"It's extremely exciting."

More than seven years were spent perfecting the technique by Dr. Day and his corneoplastic team at Queen Victoria Hospital.

The results of their trial will be presented in New Orleans at the international eye specialists conference later this year.


 

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