Corneal Blindness: Stem Cells May Provide Alternative Cure

Date (2014-12-31 )

There could be an alternative to corneal transplantation to cure blindness, prescription thanks to collaborative research findings by a research team from India and the US.

The animal studies conducted on the efficacy of using stem cells to treat scarring of whitening of cornea, the central dark portion of the eye, in curing blindness gave positive results, Sayan Basu, consultant corneal surgeon and scientist, LV Prasad Eye Institute (LEPEI), told news persons on Thursday.

Basu is working along with James L Funderburgh, Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in a collaborative research project.

The results of the animal studies have been published on Thursday in the latest issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine. “We found that when the stem cells were applied to damaged corneas, they healed and became clear again within four weeks of treatment while those untreated remained clouded,” he said.

‘Long way’

However, there is still a long way to go. Phase I clinical studies involving 10 patients at LVPEI are currently underway and might take another six months to be completed.

“We still need to figure out whether the same set of desired results could be achieved in human patients and also the required dosage,” Funderburgh, speaking from the US through Skype said.

Second phase

Phase II clinical trials will have to be conducted. If all goes well, patients might be in a position to gain from this innovation after about three years.

“But, once proved, it will help treating corneal blindness in most cases at nominal cost,” Basu said. At present, the cost of corneal replacement ranges from ?50,000 to ?1.5 lakh. There are nearly 1.40 lakh patients in the waiting lists to receive corneas for transplantation in the country now, he added.

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