By Adrian Galbreth
Scientists' seemingly never-ending battle against blindness has taken an exciting new step after experts were able to prevent blindness in a serious eye condition.
The study, published online in the journal Cornea, was carried out by specialists at the Loyola University Medical Center and led by senior author Dr Charles Bouchard.
They have discovered that transplanting tissue from newborn fetal membranes prevents blindness in patients with a disease called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which causes skin and mucous membranes, including the eye surface, to react severely to a medication or infection.
The disease causes painful skin blisters and symptoms can sometimes resemble severe burns, with one in three cases leading to toxic epidermal necrolysis and two-thirds of patients experiencing eye problems, ranging from mild dry eye to severe scarring that can cause blindness.
Dr Bouchard and colleagues looked into a new treatment for the condition known as amniotic membrane transplantation, which involves using a part of fetal membranes that surround and protect the baby in the womb, and have natural therapeutic properties.
According to the experts, when these membranes (which are donated by a consenting mother following the birth of her baby) are placed on the eye, they can help aid healing, decrease inflammation and minimise scarring.
In studies, 13 patients underwent amniotic membrane transplantation during the early stage of the disease, while 17 patients received standard medical management but no transplantation.
After three months, only 4.3 per cent of the eyes treated with amniotic membrane transplantation were legally blind, while 35 per cent of the eyes treated with medical management alone were legally blind.
"Our results support the use of early amniotic membrane transplantation, within the first three to five days, over the entire ocular surface. If the amniotic membrane is placed more than one week after the onset of the disease, the beneficial effects may be reduced," the researchers concluded.
by Emily Tait