For the first time, Swedish scientists have been able to use stem cells to repair a damaged cornea – an advance that could be refined to greatly reduce the need for donated corneas that are constantly in short supply.
A new cornea is the only way to prevent some patients from going blind, but the wait for donated tissues is typically long. But the stem cell technique developed by scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg could eliminate the need for human cornea donors.
Approximately 100,000 corneal transplants are performed worldwide each year to replace damaged and cloudy corneas with healthy, transparent ones.
The Swedish scientists, reporting in the journal Acta Ophthalmologica, said they were able to essentially grow new corneas from stem cells taken from defective corneas obtained from the Sahlgrenska University Hospital.
"Similar experiments have been carried out on animals, but this is the first time that stem cells have been grown on damaged human corneas,” said lead researcher Charles Hanson. “It means that we have taken the first step towards being able to use stem cells to treat damaged corneas. If we can establish a routine method for this, the availability of material for patients who need a new cornea will be essentially unlimited.”