Do Stem Cells Hold the Secret to Curing Blindness?

ClayMeow - June 4, 2009 11:18AM in General News

Researchers at The University of New south Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia made an interesting observation; stem cells from the cornea stick to contact lenses. With that in mind, they conducted a study to see if this could be used to repair the cornea of patients who were blind in one eye. The researchers obtained stem cells from the patients' healthy eyes and put them in extended wear contact lenses. Within 10 to 14 days, the stem cells began to repair the cornea. Two of the three patients in the study were legally blind before the procedure, but can now read "the big letters on an eye chart." The third patient was already able to read those top few rows, but after the treatment can now pass a driver's license vision test. Those with both eyes damaged aren't necessarily unable to have this procedure done. The researchers are able to harbor stem cells from a different part of the eye.

Considering that 1.5 million people lose sight in one of their eyes every year due to corneal diseas, according to the World Health Organization, this is a fairly huge step forward, especially since the procedure is non-invasive, simple and cheap. The researchers are unsure whether the vision correction will remain stable over time, so they're being cautiously optimistic. Nevertheless, the three patients have maintained their "restored sight" for 18 months now, so it looks promising.