Stem cell technology has revolutionized the practice
of medicine. Conditions that were
considered untreatable in the past, have a cure today. Basically, all the specialized cells of the
body including the organs, skin, lungs etc, are derived from undifferentiated
or stem cells. For the purpose of
treatment, the stem cells are transplanted to a part of the body that is
damaged; the cells then differentiate and repair the damaged organ or body
Damage to the
cornea is one of the major causes of blindness the world over.
Some of these patients could now have a reason to smile -
Scientists from the University of Sheffield are trying out the use of stem
cells implanted in a biodegradable disc for the treatment of damaged
corneas. The scientists hope that
these stem cells, once in place over the damaged cornea, will be able to form
new corneal cells, and therefore repair the cornea.
The biodegradable disc contains small pockets around
the edges that are filled with stem cells.
The central portion of the disc is thinner, which is likely to
biodegrade faster. It is hoped that the
stem cells from the periphery can move and proliferate over the cornea, and
thereby repair it.
The usual treatment for corneal damage is either
corneal transplant or transplanting stem cells into the eyes with donated
membranes. It is a well-known fact that
though eye donation is widely encouraged, the number of donated eyes still
falls short of the total number required for transplantation. Hence, with the use of a biodegradable lens,
the desperate wait for a matching donor may be eased.
It is likely that the new treatment will not only be
better than the current treatment, but also cheaper as well. With clinical trials for the new treatment
due to begin shortly, it is hoped that it will be successful in treating vision
loss due to corneal damage in a number of individuals.