Treating blindness by stem cells
Culture, storage, transport, and transplantation of corneal epithelial cells
Corneal diseases constitute the second most common cause of blindness worldwide. The corneal stem cells, which are located in the periphery of the cornea (limbus), are important for normal vision by keeping the cornea transparent and are also needed to repair corneal damage. Injuries of the eye caused by ultraviolet radiation, chemical burns and some diseases such as pterygium, Stevens–Johnson syndrome and ocular infections can cause limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD), which can lead to blindness as the cornea is becoming opaque (Figure 1). Other symptoms include irritation, epiphora, blepharospasms, photophobia, and pain. The latter is explained by the fact that the cornea is one of the most heavily innervated tissue in the body with a density of nerve endings 300-400 times higher than the skin.
LSCD can be treated by transplantation of ex vivo expanded human limbal epithelial cells (HLECs). However, this procedure has limited use since the transplant cannot be stored before use. Dr. Lyberg’s group at the Department of Ophthalmology at Ulleval University Hospital (Oslo, Norway), have invented a method for storage of HLECs for as long as one week at room temperature. This great achievement may enable worldwide distribution of HLECs and dramatically increase the availability for this treatment.
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