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Stem Cells Restore Eyesight

Stem Cells Restore Eyesight

Stem cells used to restore vision…

British surgeons have developed a pioneering new technique to restore eyesight using stem cells. The procedure has already cured the sight of several patients who have lost their vision through injury or disease.

Currently, the technique has only been used on patients who have lost their sight in one eye, however new trials are already underway on patients who have damage to both their eyes.

The technique involves growing stem cells, taken from the patient’s ‘good eye’, in the lab before transferring them to the damaged eye. Using this process eliminates the need for drugs to suppress immunity, because the patient’s own cells are not rejected. It is also the first procedure that does not use animal products to help grow the stem cells in the laboratory.

Stem Cells Restore Eyesight

Among those who have already undergone the procedure is Russel Turnbull, a patient who lost his sight after being attacked with ammonia 15 years ago. Turnbull’s successful operations makes him one of a handful of people who have been treated with the new technique by surgeons at the North East England Stem Cell Institute, Newcastle University.

Within a few weeks of stem cells being transplanted in Mr Turnbull’s eye, he found his sight return back to the level it had been before he was attacked on a bus journey home.

Talking to reporters about his operation, Turnbull said: ‘I have my life back thanks to the operation.’

The procedure was developed to target corneal cloudiness – a condition known medically as limbal stem cell deficiency. Corneal cloudiness is estimated to cause blindness in 8 millions suffers worldwide.

Russell Turnbull Regains Eyesight

Francisco Figueiredo, a consultant eye surgeon at the North East England Stem Cell Institute who co-led the project, said:

‘This technique we have been working on for the last three years has the potential to change people’s lives…

‘By doing an operation to transplant the stem cells we can restore their life back to normal.’

The research, published in the U.S. journal Stem Cells, has been used to help eight patients with corneal cloudiness in one eye, who have sufficient sight in the remaining eye to provide a supply of healthy stem cells.

Mr Figueiredo said:

‘I have a 74-year-old patient who has not been able to see out of one eye for 54 years. At the age of 20 he was attacked in the street with ammonia and lost his sight…

‘Since then he has practically been unable to see out of that eye…

‘Now, having had the operation, he can see again. It’s incredible. Provided the blindness is caused by stem cell deficiency we can restore their sight using this technique.’

Professor Michael Whitaker, co-director of the institute, said:

‘Stem cells from bone marrow have been used successfully for many years to treat cancer and immune disease, but this is the first successful stem cell therapy using stem cells from the eye without animal products to treat disease…

‘Because the early results look so promising, we are thinking hard now about how to bring this treatment rapidly into the clinic as we complete the necessary clinical trials, so that the treatment can be shared with all patients that might benefit.’

A larger study involving 24 patients is now underway with funding from the UK’s Medical Research Council.

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