By Adrian Galbreth
For many people, suffering eye trauma can mean a substantially reduced quality of life, with vision impairment preventing them from carrying out even the simplest of tasks.
However, hope is at hand for those who have experienced cornea damage, as scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, claim to have successfully cultivated stem cells on human corneas.
The first development of its kind, the specialists claim it may remove the need for donors in the long term, as well as providing other benefits.
Currently, a new cornea is the only way to prevent a patient going blind, but there is a shortage of donated corneas and the queue for transplantation is long, leading to a bottleneck of patients awaiting treatment.
However, scientists Charles Hanson and Ulf Stenevi have used defective corneas obtained from the ophthalmology clinic at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Molndal as the basis for a new study, published in the journal Acta Ophthalmologica.
They reveal how human stem cells can be cultivated into epithelial cells, which maintain the transparency of the cornea, after just 16 day' in the laboratory, with an additional week of culture on the cornea.
Mr Hanson explained "Similar experiments have been carried out on animals, but this is the first time that stem cells have been grown on damaged human corneas. It means that we have taken the first step towards being able to use stem cells to treat damaged corneas."
If a routine method can be established, the availability of material for patients who need a new cornea will be essentially unlimited, added Mr Steveni, who noted that both the surgical procedure and aftercare will also become much simpler.
One benefactor of corneal surgery is the TV presenter Katie Piper, who was blinded in an acid attack in 2008 but recently underwent a pioneering operation to restore sight to her left eye.
by Emily Tait