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Promise Demonstrated by Stem Cells in Treating Eye Injuries

by Andrew Wright
4 comments
Stem Cell Eye Treatment

In a tragic workplace accident in 2017, his left eye was severely injured, robbing him of his sight, increasing his sensitivity to light, and inducing frequent cluster headaches.

However, a groundbreaking experimental procedure allowed him to regain partial vision by using stem cells from his less damaged right eye. “The transformation was stark, from struggling with complete blindness and debilitating headaches to a state where I could drive and engage with life more fully,” he commented.

The 51-year-old resident of Homewood, Alabama, was among the four initial patients to participate in the inaugural U.S. clinical study investigating this stem cell transplant technique. Although follow-up treatments may be necessary, medical experts believe the approach offers a ray of hope to those with limited therapeutic alternatives.

The preliminary research findings were published in the academic journal, Science Advances. A more extensive study is presently in progress. The method specifically targets a corneal disorder known as “limbal stem cell deficiency,” which often results from chemical burns or other forms of eye injuries. Traditional corneal transplants prove ineffective for patients lacking limbal cells, essential for the maintenance and repair of the cornea’s outer layer.

Dr. Ula Jurkunas, a leading ophthalmologist at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston and the study’s principal investigator, explained that the experimental procedure entails taking a minor biopsy of stem cells from the patient’s healthier eye. These cells are then cultured and expanded on a lab-created graft at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Within a few weeks, the cultivated cells are ready to be transplanted back into the injured eye.

What sets this procedure apart is its reliance on the patient’s own tissues, significantly minimizing the risk of tissue rejection, according to Jurkunas. She also noted that this technique is less hazardous than another method that involves removing a larger section of stem cells from the healthier eye, which could endanger the uninjured eye.

The incident that led to his severe eye injury occurred while he was attending to a client’s malfunctioning dishwashing machine. The extent of his vision impairment was such that for nearly a year, he relied on his wife or son for guidance. Fortunately, his right eye was not as severely injured and could supply the necessary stem cells.

The 2018 surgical procedure was the result of nearly two decades of rigorous research, Jurkunas stated, who is also affiliated with Harvard Medical School. All the study participants experienced significant restoration of their cornea surfaces. Subsequently, artificial corneas were transplanted into him and another patient, while the remaining two saw substantial improvements in their vision following the stem cell transplant alone.

Jurkunas estimates that roughly 1,000 people in the U.S. annually could benefit from this type of stem cell transplantation. The approach has also been the subject of research in Japan. Dr. Tueng Shen, an ophthalmology professor at the University of Washington, concurred, stating that the current medical landscape lacks a reliable source of cultivated limbal stem cells.

The next phase of the clinical trial, encompassing 15 patients, is in the final planning stages. Among the participants is Nick Kharufeh, a 26-year-old real estate agent whose left eye was injured last year during a fireworks display. Relocating from California to Boston to participate, Kharufeh has regained enough vision to fly a small plane. While he has abandoned his ambitions of becoming a commercial pilot, he expressed deep gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the trial.


The Health and Science Department of The Big Big News is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. Editorial responsibility lies solely with the AP.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Stem Cell Eye Treatment

What is the experimental procedure mentioned in the text?

The experimental procedure involves using stem cells from a patient’s healthier eye to treat severe injuries in the other eye. These stem cells are cultured and expanded in a lab before being transplanted back into the injured eye.

What is the specific eye condition this procedure aims to treat?

This procedure is designed to treat “limbal stem cell deficiency,” a corneal disorder that can result from chemical burns and other eye injuries. It occurs when patients lack limbal cells, which are essential for maintaining the cornea’s outermost layer.

How is this procedure different from traditional corneal transplants?

Unlike traditional corneal transplants, which may not be effective for patients with limbal stem cell deficiency, this procedure relies on the patient’s own tissues. It minimizes the risk of tissue rejection and is considered less hazardous than alternative methods that involve removing larger sections of stem cells from the healthy eye.

What were the results of the initial study mentioned in the text?

All patients in the initial study experienced significant restoration of their cornea surfaces. Some were able to receive artificial cornea transplants, while others saw substantial improvements in vision with the stem cell transplant alone.

How many people in the U.S. could potentially benefit from this stem cell transplant procedure?

It is estimated that approximately 1,000 people in the U.S. each year could benefit from this type of stem cell transplant procedure. Similar research has also been conducted in Japan.

What is the next step in the clinical trial?

The next phase of the clinical trial, which includes 15 patients, is currently being finalized. This phase will provide further insights into the procedure’s effectiveness and potential applications.

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4 comments

SciNerd42 September 15, 2023 - 3:19 am

I’m super excited ’bout this research, eye injuries ain’t no joke, and if this helps folks see again, that’s fantastic news!

Reply
Reader123 September 15, 2023 - 10:45 am

Wow, this is some amazin’ stuff, stem cells fixin’ eyes, it’s like science fiction, real-life heroes!

Reply
CuriousCat September 15, 2023 - 10:56 am

so, stem cells from one eye to fix the other, cool, but how long does it take for the whole process to work? impatient here!

Reply
MedInfoGeek September 15, 2023 - 11:54 am

gr8 job on explaining the whole procedure, v informative, can’t wait to see where this goes!

Reply

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