A Boston-based scientific collaborative, led by Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers, has discovered a way to collect the best cell type for regenerating a damaged corneathe clear membrane that covers the pupil and directs light into the back of the eye. The investigators report in the journal Nature that purified human stem cells can be used to improve long-term vision in mice. The team is now pursuing FDA-approval for the technique before moving on to patient clinical trials.
The study, lead by co-senior investigators Natasha Frank, MD, and Markus Frank, MD, was a highly collaborative effort, with work done at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute, Boston Children's Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System.
Corneal blindness is a clouding of vision that results when blood vessels grow into the cornea. It can be caused by an injury, infection, or autoimmune disease that destroys an actively regenerating population of stem cells located in an area behind the cornea, called the limbus. Limbal stem cell transplants from an uninjured eye or deceased organ donor have had promising results, but outcomes have been inconsistent.
"Previously published work on limbal epithelial cell grafts showed that when more than three percent of transplanted cells were stem cells, transplants were successfulless than three percent and the transplants were not, "said HSCI Affiliated Faculty member Natasha Frank.
"The question in the field then was whether we could enrich the limbal stem cells. But until this study there was no specific marker that could isolate these cells," added Frank, who is a physician of the VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham and Women's Hospital, and a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Genetics at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
The biological marker the researchers
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