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Lab-grown corneas could prevent blindness
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers concluded that "the identification and prospective isolation of molecularly defined LSCs with essential functions in corneal development and repair has important implications for the treatment of corneal disease, particularly corneal blindness due to LSC deficiency".
This study has identified that the cell surface protein Abcb5 is necessary for normal function of LSCs in renewing the cornea. It has also shown that LSCs can be separated out from other cells through the use of antibodies to the Abcb5 protein without causing damage to the LSCs. This means that it should be possible to gather these cells (in preference to other cells) and use them to provide the best chance for a successful corneal transplant.
It is important to note that the mice were given genetically identical grafts or completely immunosuppressed so that they did not reject the grafts. At present, human recipients of donor corneal transplants also have to have immunosuppression to try to prevent the body from rejecting the transplant, unless the corneal transplant was from their good eye (but this can lead to a risk of LSC deficiency in this donor eye). Rejection is a common problem that currently affects around one in five transplant cases.
Immunosuppression and possible rejection would still be a consideration in using this new technique.
Though there is a possibility that researchers may be able to find a way to harvest normal LSCs from the person requiring the transplant and multiply them in the laboratory, before transplanting them back.
Though this research provides a new approach to capturing important cells for corneal regeneration, more research to develop the technique and make sure it is safe will be required before human trials can take place.
As is the case with all donated organs, the current demand for transplanted corneas outstrips the demand, so if you haven't already signed up to the organ donation register, please do so.
Adding your name to the Organ Donor Register will only take a few minutes.
That way, you can be sure that your corneas and other valuable organs don't go to waste after you die.
Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.
"Scientists use stem cells to regenerate human corneas," BBC News reports. Researchers discovered a way of harvesting limbal stem cells and then transplanting them into mice to create fully functioning corneas.
Links to Headlines
Scientists use stem cells to regenerate human corneas. BBC News, July 2 2014
Scientists regrow corneas in breakthrough which could pave the way for a cure for blindness. Mail Online, July 2 2014
Links to Science
Ksander BR, Kolovou PE, Wilson BJ, et al. ABCB5 is a limbal stem cell gene required for corneal development and repair. Nature. Published online July 2 2014
- NHS Choices links
- Why cornea transplants are used
- How cornea transplants are performed
- Visual impairment
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