Simple stem cell technique restores sight to damaged eyes

In a world-first breakthrough by Australian scientists, the eyesight in a damaged eye has been restored by using stem cells from the eye itself.

The scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) say the technique improves patients' vision within weeks and the results are exciting.

The medical researchers from UNSW's School of Medical Sciences used stem cells cultured on a simple contact lens to restore sight to sufferers of blinding corneal disease and they say within weeks of the simple, inexpensive procedure, sight was significantly improved and only a minimal hospital stay was required.

The research team harvested stem cells from patients' own eyes which were then cultured on a common therapeutic contact lens - this was then placed onto the damaged cornea for 10 days and the cells were able to re-colonise the damaged eye surface and rehabilitated the damaged cornea.

The trial was conducted on three patients; two with extensive corneal damage resulting from multiple surgeries to remove ocular melanomas, and one with the genetic eye condition aniridia (a congenital condition affecting both eyes) - corneas can also be damaged by chemical or thermal burns, bacterial infection and chemotherapy.

Dr. Nick Di Girolamo, lead author of the study says the procedure is simple and cheap and unlike other techniques, it requires no foreign human or animal products, only the patient's own serum.

Dr. Di Girolamo says it requires no suturing, no major operation and is completely non-invasive and all that is involved is harvesting a minute amount - less than a millimeter - of tissue from the ocular surface and because the procedure uses the patient's own stem cells harvested from their eye, it is ideal for sufferers of unilateral eye disease and also works in patients who have had both eyes damaged.

In the patients with aniridia, instead of taking the stem cells from the other cornea, the team took them from another part of the eye altogether - the conjunctiva - which also harbours stem cells and Dr Di Girolamo says the stem cells were able to change from the conjunctival phenotype to a corneal phenotype after they were put onto the cornea.

Sight for sore eyes

He says "that is the beauty of stem cells".

The therapeutic contact lens used in the trial was of a type commonly used worldwide after ocular surface surgery but of the several brands on the market, only one was suitable for growing the stem cells.

The researchers say the new procedure offers hope to people with a range of blinding eye conditions and could have applications in other organs such as the skin, which behaves in a very similar way to the cornea.

The research appears in the current issue of the journal Transplantation.


  1. R N Mclean R N Mclean Australia says:

    Sounds like great news for some people with corneal eye diseases - never a mention of keratoconus which affects some 1/2000 of us. At 69 I dread the thought of a 2nd graft to replace my 25 yr. old R graft, and my L cornea is now fragile and requires soft plus over-riding hard lens to keep me reading etc.

    Any views on whether this new approach will assist advanced k/conus?

    Neil McLean

  2. J M D J M D Australia says:

    Is there a similar therapy for macular in dry macular degeneration or wet mac. deg. ??

  3. Jess Jess United States says:

    What better way to fix something than with the same material?  An eye for an eye...

  4. A.Grollios A.Grollios Greece says:

    Is there any good news out there for a person who has gradually but completely lost sight because of glaukoma (that has probably damaged the optical nerve)? I would greatly appreciate any help!

  5. Jeanette Jeanette Australia says:

    I have a very close family friend who started to go blind at the age of two due to a viral infection (she is now completely blind).  She is an amazing woman who never allows her disability to get her down.
    Could this particular stem cell treatment help to restore some of her sight in any way?

  6. SUNITA SUNITA India says:

    I am very exited to here this, as I have very low vision. I can only count fingers without glasses, and contact lenses are very painful. I am looking for the same treatment, if possible in my case.

  7. D M Upadhyay D M Upadhyay India says:

    Dear Sir,

    My son (8 years)suffring from eyes problem. his eyes are moving so image also moving, he not able to do school work. do have any medical treatments let me know.


    D M Upadhyay (INDIA)
    Mobile: +91 9650391130

  8. D M Upadhyay D M Upadhyay India says:

    Dear Sir,

    This is Upadhyay from India. My son (8 Years) have problems in both eyes. Both eyes are moving & the image also moving. I have all test reports of that. I am requesting to you, if there is any medical treatments available, let me know.

  9. sohiar sa'ad sohiar sa'ad Egypt says:

    Well my mum have some dead cells in the retina or the eye
    and the problem that those dead cells are increasing every day and no she almost can't see so is there any treatment for her eyes?

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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