Stem cells used to repair eye surface

(Stem Cells News image)

TONY EASTLEY: In a world first Melbourne researchers have rebuilt the surface of a human eye, using adult stem cells grown on a special type of contact lens.

One of the researchers is Karl Brown from the Centre for Eye Research Australia. He’s speaking with Ashley Hall.

KARL BROWN: We collected the adult stem cells from the very edge of the cornea. In the final version this could be the patient’s own eye if they have a good eye and an injured eye. Or it could be from material left over that is not used for a corneal transplant.

ASHLEY HALL: So obviously if you use the cells form someone’s own eye there will be no problems with rejection. But what if you use cells from someone else’s eye? Is that likely to be a problem?

KARL BROWN: With the cornea yes there is a degree of immune tolerance. So it will have to matched to the same degree that a normal corneal transplant would be matched.

ASHLEY HALL: Many researchers around the world have been trying to get this process to work. How did you succeed when they couldn’t?

KARL BROWN: What we have done is produced a new surface with our collaborators at the Mawson Institute which encourages the cells to grow but also ensures that the cells transfer from the contact lens to the eye. And we have been able to label the cells and show that the cells are actually transferring.

ASHLEY HALL: So when we talk about them growing on a contact lens, we describe it that way because of the shape I assume, it’s not really a contact lens is it?

KARL BROWN: It’s really a contact lens. It’s a contact lens much like the disposable contact lenses people use but it’s got a specific coating on it that cells like.

And the idea is that you’ll grow the cells on the contact lens, put the contact lens onto the eye. The cells will transfer from the contact lens to the eye and begin healing. And then sometime later you can remove the lens.

ASHLEY HALL: And in your test it’s taken about four days, is that right?

KARL BROWN: In our experiments we used a four day period to grow the cells and a four day period for transfer.

For human patients the period of wear will probably be a little bit longer and the period of culture will also probably be a little bit longer.

ASHLEY HALL: In what sort of cases could this technique be effective?

KARL BROWN: In Australia most people who have the kind of problem where this technique would be most useful are people suffering from alkali burns or heat burns to an eye. And in those cases where the eye is very badly burned, that (inaudible) population of stem cells at the periphery of the cornea is also destroyed and so those people can’t have a normal corneal transplant. It won’t work for them.

TONY EASTLEY: Karl Brown, a researcher with the Centre for Eye Research Australia. Ashley Hall, the reporter.


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