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Let Blind Eyes Be Opened - Stem Cell Therapy and Aniridia

British scientists offer a ray of hope to persons suffering from aniridia - a rare defect of being born with no iris.//

Around 1,000 people in the UK alone, suffer from this rare genetic disorder, aniridia, which means they are born without the stem cells that can rejuvenate tissue in the eye.

Sufferers develop diseases normally associated with old age - such as glaucoma or cataracts - when they are young.

Aniridia results in near blindness since the limbal cells that keep the surface of the cornea clear and healthy are missing or few in number.

The revolutionary treatment to restore sight caused by the absence of an iris is being carried out by Dr. Sheraz Daya of Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, West Sussex, after 7 years of perfecting the technique. This is carried out by using stem cell therapy.

In the procedure, stem cells are harvested from live or dead donors, or the patients themselves, and cultivated in lab dishes.

Once they attain a sheet like growth, they are transplanted into the cornea of the patient and held down with amniotic membranes sourced from donated placentas. The membrane dissolves within 2 to 3 weeks and within a few months the stem cells trigger the complete growth of the epithelium, or top layer of the cornea. They themselves disappear then ,thus eliminating the need of immuno-suppressant drugs.

So far Daya has carried out four such procedures successfully.

Says Daya: "We think the donor cells have attracted stem cells from the bone marrow to make new limbal stem cells, which have arrived at the eye through the bloodstream.

"Once we understand what has prompted their growth, then we can understand what they can do for other parts of the body", he adds.

Similar transplants have been carried out in Japan, the US, Italy and Taiwan, but this is the first time they have been used for patients with aniridia.

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