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Stem cell treated contact lenses to repair damaged eyes

image-tools (52)The Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) has applied adult stem cells to a specially designed contact lens to help restore vision to damaged corneas.

In people with severely damaged corneas, the current and most common treatment is corneal transplant. However, this option does not work if the outer edge of the cornea is damaged, such as in injuries caused by chemical or thermal burns.

The outer edge of the cornea contains adult stem cells needed to replenish the cornea. Like our skin, our corneal tissue is constantly regenerating.

The technique, developed by the team from CERA, along with collaborators at the Mawson Institute at the University of South Australia, uses a special contact lens to transfer corneal stem cells onto the damaged part of the cornea where they multiply and regenerate the tissue.

Importantly, the stem cells are tagged, which allowed researchers to demonstrate for the first time that the transferred cells contributed to repair.

Mr Karl Brown is a PhD student working on the project, led by Associate Professor Mark Daniell, Head of CERA’s Surgical Research Unit.

“This is an exciting development in stem cell therapy and eye research. A lot of people don’t realise the huge potential for stem cells to treat eye disease and eye injuries,” says Mr Brown.

“It’s my hope that this therapy will one day restore sight for people for whom traditional corneal transplants are not an option.”

This experiment builds on the work of University of NSW researchers who used a similar technique with an ‘off the shelf’ contact lens.

In Australia, the technique is still experimental but researchers believe international human trials look promising.

 This project is supported by the Australian Government under the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund.


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