Stem cells `to repair damaged cornea`

London: Stem cells may soon be used to repair damaged corneas, say scientists after they claim to have for the first time successfully cultivated the same in laboratory in what`s being described as a pioneering research.

A team at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg in Sweden, says it has, in fact, taken the first step towards producing corneas cultivated from stem cells, which may in the long run remove the need for donors.

The cornea is the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber. Together with the lens, the cornea refracts light with the cornea accounting for approximately two-thirds of the eye`s total optical power.

In their research, the scientists, led by Charles Hanson and Ulf Stenevi, have used defective corneas obtained from the ophthalmology clinic at Sahlgrenska University Hospital.

Their findings have shown how human stem cells can be caused to develop into what are known as "epithelial cells" after 16 days` culture in the laboratory and a further six days of culture on a cornea.

It is the epithelial cells that maintain the transparency of the cornea.

"Similar experiments have been carried out on animals, but this is the first time that stem cells have been grown on damaged human corneas. It means that we have taken the first
step towards being able to use stem cells to treat damaged corneas," Hanson said in a university release.

Added Stenevi: "If we can establish a routine method for this, the availability of material for patients who need a new cornea will be essentially unlimited. Both the surgical procedures and the aftercare will also become much more simple."

The findings have been published in the latest edition of the `Acta Ophthalmologica` journal.