The North East England Stem Cell Institute, located in Newcastle, has developed a treatment in which stem cells taken from one eye can be used to repair the other.
This procedure was used on eight human test subjects in the first trial and all eight of them reported improved vision. If this success is repeated in a larger trial of twenty-five patients, it could be the answer we’re looking for in treating thousands of people with diseased or damaged corneas. (The Times, Dec. 23, 2009)
One patient, Russell Turnbull, 38, was the victim of an ammonia burn on his cornea. This left him with pain at every blink, cloudy vision, light sensitivity, and an eye that wouldn’t quit watering. As a result, he had lost his job and been unable to participate in many of his normal recreational activities. Since his stem cell treatment, Russell has been getting his life back together. He has returned to work and is back to his old self. He has even taken up horse back riding since the restoration of his sight.
The corners of our eyes contain specialized cells called limbal stem cells. The purpose of these cells is to resupply the cornea allowing its outer layer to remain transparent and smooth. In Mr. Turnbull’s case, the damage to his eye allowed him to develop limbal stem cell deficiency, which in turn, caused the outer surface of his eye to become rough and cloudy, causing light sensitivity and pain with every blink.
Scientists took limbal stem cells from the patients’ good eyes, then multiplied them in the laboratory. The expanded cells were then spread on to a human amniotic membrane — the tissue that holds the fetus in the womb — which is commonly used as a template for bioengineering.
The patients’ damaged corneal tissue was surgically removed and replaced with the stem-cell grafts.
An average of 19 months after the operations, all the patients reported reduced pain and improved vision.
Because the replacement tissue came from the patients’ bodies, they needed no drugs to suppress their immune systems and there was no risk of rejection. Details of the research are published in the journal Stem Cells.
“This has transformed my life, my eye is almost as good as it was before the accident,” Mr. Turnbull said. “I’m working, I can go jet-skiing again, and I also ride horses. I have my life back thanks to the operation.”
Chalk one more up for science and thank God for the doctors and lab workers who spend day in to day out plugging away for answers to better the lives of others. To help us reclaim our liberties, discover new freedoms, and get back to living our lives as fully as we wish.