Stem cells help restore vision

Stem cells help restore vision

One of the patients, Sylvia Paton from Edinburgh, agreed to publish her name. She has a hereditary disease called aniridia. Aniridia is a rare congenital genetic disease in which the iris is absent. Sometimes the cause of aniridia is a penetrating wound to the eye. Congenital aniridia is often combined with other pathologies of the development of the eye, in particular, macular hypoplasia (hypoplasia of the yellow spot located in the retina of the eye) and optic nerve hypoplasia, cataracts, and changes in the cornea. Accompanied by a marked decrease in visual acuity, practically unamenable to correction, photophobia, horizontal nystagmus, and sometimes congenital glaucoma. In the case of Miss Paton, this disease caused the absence of the iris in one of the eyes and a decrease in visual acuity of up to 10 percent of normal, along with increased photosensitivity. A stem cell transplant was performed in February 2012 by Dr. Ashish Agrawal, but neither the patient herself nor the group of doctors who performed the operation will know what the result is for many months.

The cornea is a transparent light refracting covering of the anterior part of the eyeball. Until now, according to MedicalPress, it was possible to partially improve the vision of people with damaged corneas only with the help of a cornea transplant from deceased donors. The new treatment method, called corneal epithelial stem cell transplantation, used stem cells grown in the laboratory of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS). During the procedure, dead and cataract-damaged tissues were removed, replacing them with stem cells. In the microenvironment of healthy cells, the stem cells gradually turn into a fully formed cornea, but due to the fact that the process is extremely slow, the result has to wait a long time.

In the case of Miss Paton, doctors cannot predict how much the operation will affect the improvement of vision, even if the cornea is perfectly formed, because it is not clear how well the rest of the eyeball’s tissue functions.

Scottish scientists have been developing a method of treating vision with stem cell transplantation for several years, and this clinical study is the culmination of their efforts. The study involved a total of 10 patients, 8 of whom have not yet undergone the implantation procedure. Another group of ten people will be treated in traditional ways, and they will play the role of a control group. Scientists expect that the “build-up” of the new cornea with stem cells will take about a year, but if successful, the new technique may be revolutionary in treating people suffering from blindness due to cornea problems, which are the second cause of blindness after cataract throughout the world. Such problems, according to scientists, are relevant for about 20 million people.

It should be said that while in other countries such operations are rare, and each case is actively covered in the media, then Russia has long developed such advanced technologies that have been successfully used in medical practice for many years. For example, in the laboratory of the Deputy Director for Science of the Institute of Development Biology. NK Koltsov of the Russian Academy of Sciences Andrei Vasilyev established an effective method of artificial cornea transplantation, and in the Moscow Research Institute of Eye Diseases. G. Helmholtz has already completed more than 60 such operations with his participation.

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