Posted on Mar 22, 2019, 6 p.m.
Breakthroughs in stem cell therapy may make it possible for those who are blind to see again, according to research stem cells taken from the eyes of non-living donors can be used to cure blindness, as published in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.
Although the researchers from Scotland still need to perfect the technique to get the procedure down to an exact science, all of the patients who received treatment had drastic improvements in vision, with some recovering faster than others: in the study tissue transplant was attempted on 8 blind patients of which 2 regained their vision and ability to read again.
Baljean Dhillion of the University of Edinburgh says “findings from this study are promising and show potential for safe stem cell eye surgery and improvement in eye repair.” Treatment was able to help with blindness caused by damage to the cornea in this study which was focused on limbal stem cells instrumental to vision, and usually at low levels in those suffering from corneal blindness.
16 patients were split into 2 group, of which one was selected at random to receive transplant tissue along with eyes drops and immune system suppressing drugs to reduce the risk of rejection. All of those in the transplant group had significant improvement to their eyesight over a period of a year and a half; and Dhillion believes this type of treatment can be applied in different manners to cure other forms of blindness.
“LSCD is an irreversible disease resulting from loss/dysfunction of epithelial stem cells, in which the corneal epithelium becomes deficient and is replaced by surrounding conjunctival epithelium. LSCD causes severe ocular surface disease characterized by reduced vision, chronic ocular irritation, glare, and blindness,” explains Dhillion. “Next we need to understand how stem cells promote tissue repair for disease that are hard to treat and if/how stem cells can help to restore vision.”
“Both groups showed improvements to vision which warrants further investigation in a larger trial,” according to the researchers. “Clinical studies help to gain understandings of how complex new cellular therapies may be able to complement existing medical approaches to restoring function to damaged organs and tissues,” says Professor Marc Turner.
It was concluded: This RCT demonstrated sustained benefits achieved by the IMP, this intervention warrants further investigation in larger sample sizes in a phase III study, which would benefit from being concentrated on a single disease group to eliminate some of the variables. Findings in the subgroup with aniridia suggest elevated systemic cytokine levels may have clinical relevance, dissecting ocular and systemic inflammatory mechanisms may shed new light on OSD pathogenesis associated with the condition.
Stem cell treatments may offer hope to countless patients with similar situations, as more facilities become comfortable with attempting procedures after seeing success of others. Stem cell therapy trials were opened for 10 patients suffering with traumatic spinal cord injuries by the Mayo Clinic. University of Minnesota research showed spinal cord stimulation using stem cells helped to heal paralysis, and immediately restored some voluntary movement and autonomic functions years after paralyzing injury without significant rehabilitation.
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