Researchers at the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) have reported the first successful treatment of eight patients with "Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency" (LSCD) using the patients' own stem cells without the need of suppressing their immunity.
LSCD is a painful, blinding disease that requires long-term, costly treatment with frequent clinic visits and intensive hospital admissions.
The vision loss due to LSCD makes this disease not only costly, but often requires social support due to the enormous impact on patient's quality of life.
This is further magnified by the fact that LSCD mostly affects young patients.
"Corneal cloudiness has been estimated to cause blindness in 8 million people (10pc of total blindness) worldwide each year. A large number of ocular surface diseases, both acquired and congenital, share features of partial or complete LSCD," said Dr Francisco Figueiredo, a member of the NESCI team.
Chemical burns to the eye are the most common cause of LSCD.
"This study demonstrates that transplantation of cultured corneal stem cells without the use of animal cells or products is a safe and effective method of reconstructing the corneal surface and restoring useful sight in patients with unilateral LSCD," said a co-author of the study.
"This research shows promise to help hundreds of people regain their sight. These exciting results offer a new treatment and hope for people with LSCD," added the co-author.
The study has been published in the journal Stem Cells.