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Sight restored in less than a month using stem cell contact lenses

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June 2, 2009

Contact lenses coated with stem cells could help cure some forms of blindness

Contact lenses coated with stem cells could help cure some forms of blindness

June 2, 2009 The humble contact lens has long been used to improve people’s vision, but now researchers have restored sight in patients suffering corneal damage using a groundbreaking technique where contact lenses are cultured with stem cells.

The idea stemmed from the observation that stem cells from the cornea (the thin, transparent barrier at the front of the eye) stick to contact lenses. Employing three patients who were blind in one eye, the researchers obtained stem cells from their healthy eyes and cultured them in extended wear contact lenses for ten days. The surfaces of the patients’ corneas were cleaned and the contact lenses inserted. Within 10 to 14 days the stem cells began to recolonize and repair the cornea.

“The procedure is totally simple and cheap,” said lead author of the study, UNSW’s Dr Nick Di Girolamo. “Unlike other techniques, it requires no foreign human or animal products, only the patient’s own serum, and is completely non-invasive.

Of the three patients, two were legally blind but can now read the big letters on an eye chart, while the third, who could previously read the top few rows of the chart, is now able to pass the vision test for a driver’s license. The research team isn’t getting over excited, still remaining unsure as to whether the correction will remain stable, but the fact that the three test patients have been enjoying restored sight for the last 18 months is definitely encouraging. The simplicity and low cost of the technique also means that it could be carried out in poorer countries.

The procedure also works in patients who have had both eyes damaged. “One of our patients had aniridia, a congenital condition affecting both eyes," said Dr Di Girolamo. "In that case, instead of taking the stem cells from the other cornea, we took them from another part of the eye altogether – the conjunctiva – which also harbors stem cells."

Diseases affecting the cornea are one of the main causes of blindness around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that corneal disease could be responsible for 1.5 million people losing sight in one of their eyes every year.

Although at the moment the treatment can only help people with damage to the edge of the cornea, the researchers say that in the future the technique could be used to help people blinded by other causes. As well other parts of the eye such as the retina, major organs such as the skin could also be regrown using the technique.

The research team has applied for funds to continue the project. Given their results to date, we’d like to see them get it.

Darren Quick

Source: University of New South Wales via The Australian.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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4 Comments

Very encouraging and promising. Should set global R&D network. Poor country could get the best benefit. I wish WHO would initiates funds for the works.

razif
2nd June, 2009 @ 05:28 pm PDT

What I'd like to see is a completely biological contact lens for vision correction, which after placement on the cornea would soon attach permanently and become part of the cornea.

They'd likely be expensive, but how much $$$$$ does the average contact lens wearer spend over several years on lenses and cleaning solutions?

Facebook User
14th September, 2010 @ 11:34 pm PDT

I have been looking around the internet for information on contact lenses and came across your article. I had not seen this information anywhere else. It absolutely amazes me that the stem cells and contacts can be used to help blind people see again. I hope your research is continuing.

Thanks,

Dianne

Dianne
18th October, 2010 @ 01:52 pm PDT

Amazing! I hope this concept (or something similar) can be also used to repair the eye lens itself. I'd love to Beta test it. I can imagine a dissolving matrix that is embedded with stem cells placed onto the retina or onto the lens doing the trick.

Mark Keller
28th February, 2012 @ 12:26 pm PST
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