The researchers made use of a molecule known as ABCB5 as a marker to identify hard-to-find limbal stem cells which are present in the eye's basal limbal epithelium and help maintain and regenerate corneal tissue. The loss of these cells is the leading cause of blindness around the world. The researchers used the marker to detect the stem cells in deceased donors and implanted them in mice to regrow anatomically correct, fully functional human corneas. The study has been published in the journal Nature.
"Limbal stem cells are very rare, and successful transplants are dependent on these rare cells. his findings will now make it much easier to restore the corneal surface. It is a very good example of basic research moving quickly to a translational application", co-author of the study, Dr Bruce Ksander said.