Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Adult Stem Cells Cure the Blind

Fortune Magazine details the work the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in India which is successfully transplanting corneas derived from adult stem cells to help patients see again:
In an operating theater in the central Indian city of Hyderabad, he surgically implants corneas grown in a petri dish from stem cells by his colleague Geeta Vemuganti in patients with damaged eyes. Together they perform about 80 corneal regeneration procedures a year, making the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute where they work one of the most prolific facilities in the world using stem cells to regenerate tissue of any kind.

The Sangwan-Vemuganti team uses stem cells found in the tissues of living adults, not ones derived from embryos. Teams all over the world are working with adult stem cells, trying to coax them to regrow cells in hearts, brains, livers, and other organs, but progress is slow.

Besides corneas, scientists have had some success regrowing skin cells and bone tissue, but those procedures remain experimental.

The treatment uses stem cells harvested from the limbus, located where the cornea touches the white of the eye. For those with damaged corneas, these cells - called "limbic" and "conjunctiva" - are harvested from a patient's good eye, if he has one, or from a close relative.

They are placed in a petri dish and chemically tweaked to grow into the lower layer of a cornea, called the epithelium. It is then transplanted into the eye of the patient, where in most cases it takes hold and grows. In 56% of the cases at the Prasad Institute, patients could still see clearly 40 months later.

The formerly blind Saradhi tears up when he recalls the day his bandages came off after his operation in 2005. "I immediately had back the vision - very clear vision," he says. The first thing he saw was Sangwan, then his brother, wife, and children, including his youngest, born after the attack.

The hospital performs 25,000 eye surgeries a year, ranging from cataract removal to LASIK procedures. The institute receives a small number of medical tourists from Europe and the U.S.; more come from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.


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