A hospital in the UK is pioneering the use of stem cells to restore the eyesight of patients. Queen Victoria Hospital, in East Grinstead, West Sussex, says that it has helped more than 20 patients to see again over the past five years.
Adult stem cells, taken either from the eyes of the patients themselves or from a donor, are grown in a laboratory before being implanted into the cornea area of the eye. The technique has restored the sight of seven out of 10 people in recent operations: their blindness had been caused either by getting acid, alkali or hot metal into their eyes, or they were congenitally blind.
Sheraz Daya, an opthalmic surgeon at the hospital, and leader of the pioneering team, said many people who've had injuries to their eyes or even people born with congenital deficiencies of stem cells, land up having a problem with the top layer of their cornea'. He went on to say that often, traditional corneal transplant operations are not effective, adding 'so what we need to do is replace those stem cells that are missing'. Where donor cells were used, analysis of the eye cells some months after the stem cells were transferred showed none of the donor's DNA. This suggests that they have been replaced by the patient's own cells, says the team.
Mr Daya said that the doctors had been amazed at how the newly-added cells seemed to cause the eye to begin to regenerate itself. Edward Bailey, who lost his sight in an industrial accident, said the technique has 'transformed' his life. 'It was the most emotional moment', he said, adding 'I couldn't believe it. For ten years all I had seen was shades of black and grey'. He continued: 'I went home and when I took the patch off my eye, I had my vision back'.