Wednesday, December 9, 2009

University of Cincinnati Stem Cell Work Heals Corneas

UC stem cell work heals corneas

By Peggy O'Farrell • • December 8, 2009

The findings, made public Tuesday, indicate stem cell transplants might one day replace cornea transplants, said Winston Whei-Yang Kao, an ophthalmology professor who led the study.

"These findings have the potential to create new and better treatments - and an improved quality of life - for patients with vision loss due to corneal injury," Kao said.

About 40,000 corneal transplants are performed annually in the U.S. according to the Eye Bank Association of America. It is the most common transplant procedure performed in the U.S.

Kao said the procedure is the only effective treatment for certain types of blindness caused by injury, infection or genetic defects that leads to scarring of the cornea. The cornea is the transparent surface of the eye that controls its ability to focus.

The problem for patients who need the transplant is that fewer donor corneas are available because more people are undergoing refractive eye surgeries, such as LASIK, which makes their corneas unsuitable for transplant.

For the study, Kao and his colleagues used mice that had been genetically modified to develop thin, clouded corneas.

After researchers transplanted umbilical stem cells, the mice grew thicker, clearer corneas.

He is now studying the technique in larger animals. Kao said he's working with health officials in Taiwan to begin setting up a study in humans there.

"We still have a long way to go with this," he said.

Kao and his colleagues used mesenchymal stem cells, which have the ability to grow into a variety of different specialized cells, harvested from umbilical cord blood.

Kao presented the findings Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Cell Biology.