Damaged Eye Reconstruction using Contact Lenses and Stem Cells

Researches Di Girolamo N et al, from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia have shown that coating a common soft contact lens with stem cells harvested from a healthy eye can be successfully transferred onto the surface of a contact lens and used to help reconstruct the surface of a damaged eye. In the study Stem cells were harvested from the eyes of three patients with damaged corneas. All three of the patients showed improvements in visual acuity after the procedure.

"COATING a common contact lens with stem cells could help restore a person's sight, Australian scientists have found. University of New South Wales medical researchers used the technique to treat the damaged corneas of three patients, all of whose vision improved within weeks of the groundbreaking procedure. The results are published in the journal Transplant, indicating a further unique element of the world-first trial.

Stem cells were harvested from the eyes of each patient and then cultured inside a contact lens, which was then stuck onto a damaged cornea in a "transplant" of regenerative cells. "The procedure is totally simple and cheap," said the university's Dr Nick Di Girolamo. "Unlike other techniques . . . there's no suturing, there is no major operation, all that's involved is harvesting a minute amount - less than a millimetre - of tissue from the ocular surface." The lens stayed on for 10 days allowing stem cells to change their form, colonise and repair the cornea.

Two of the patients involved in the trial had suffered extensive corneal damage to one eye, caused by multiple surgeries to remove cancerous growths. Dr Girolamo said that in these cases the stem cells were taken from their healthy eye - but the third patient posed an additional challenge because of a congenital disorder which affected both eyes. "We took them from another part of the eye altogether - the conjunctiva which also harbours stem cells," Dr Di Girolamo said. "The stem cells were able to change from the conjunctival phenotype to a corneal phenotype after we put them onto the cornea . . . that's the beauty of stem cells."

The procedure could be replicated in third would countries by a surgeon with a laboratory for cell culture, Dr Di Girolamo said. It offered hope to people with a range of blinding eye conditions, he said, and there was also the possibility of adapting the technique to repair skin which behaved in a similar way to the eye.

The stem cell procedure was considered non-controversial, said former Deputy Chair of the Lockhart Committee on human cloning and embryo research Professor Loane Skene. "Provided that patients are told the new procedure is experimental . . . and they then consent to have it, this use of a patient's own stem cells is no more ethically contentious than a skin transplant," Prof Skene said."

In conclusion the use of soft contact lenses is a unique technique that has the potential to achieving amazing ocular surface reconstruction. They have published their findings in the journal Transplantation.

Eyenovations, a startup company in Cambridge, is following the same trend on using contact lenses as a carrier, by producing a contact lens capable of delivering drugs to the eye through the contact lens to help with eye conditions that require a significant number of daily eye drops like patients suffering from glaucoma.

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