Scientists in Boston have recently developed methods to regrow the human cornea which could be used in the future to restore sight to victims of burns, chemical injuries or other eye damage. The process involves new techniques to identify Limbal Stem Cells (LSCs), which are crucial for healthy eyesight and help to regenerate corneal tissue. The loss or deficiency of these cells is one of the leading causes of blindness throughout the world.
Previous attempts to regrow damaged corneas through tissue transplants have provided inconsistent results as it was impossible to detect LSCs in the transplanted tissue. However, researchers now claim to have solved this problem after discovering a molecule called ABCB5 (previously only known to be found in other parts of the body) which naturally occurs on the surface of LSCs. The scientists use antibodies to detect and flag up the ABCB5 molecules so that the elusive LSCs can be identified. The LSCs are then used to grow fully functioning human corneas on test subjects and researchers are hopeful that this research can soon be replicated in humans.
Philippa Luscombe, partner in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP, comments: “This is very encouraging news. While this remedy will not assist in every form of visual loss, it may make a huge difference to treatment options for some patients with visual impairment. We have dealt with a number of cases, particularly accidents at work, where sight has been lost due to eye injuries from chemicals or penetrating objects causing significant and permanent disability. This research may mean that there is a chance to save the sight of these individuals.”