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Stem Cells May Hold Hope for Eye Disease

In study on mice, one type of umbilical cell cleared cloudy corneas

TUESDAY, Dec. 8 (HealthDay News) -- New research has found that a certain kind of stem cell from human umbilical cords helped restore transparency to the cloudy corneas of laboratory mice, raising the prospect that they could do the same for people.

Currently, a limited supply of donated human corneas is available to help people with severe corneal and eye diseases.

The new research examined human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells. When transplanted into the corneal stroma of the mouse eyes, they survived for more than three months without much sign of graft rejection, researcher Winston Kao of the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, said in a news release from the American Society for Cell Biology.

Transplantation of human organs involves a certain degree of risk because the body tries to reject things it considers foreign. In the study, that happened to another kind of stem cell -- human umbilical hematopoietic stem cells -- that was transplanted into the mouse eyes.

However, according to Kao, stem-cell transplants hold promise as a treatment for some eye diseases. He said it's easy to isolate the cells and let them reproduce before storage, and the supply of stem cells is virtually unlimited.

The findings were to be presented Dec. 8 at the American Society for Cell Biology's annual meeting in San Diego.

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more on corneal disease.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: American Society for Cell Biology, news release, Dec. 8, 2009

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