Newcastle technique uses stem cells to reverse eye damage

The North East England Stem Cell Institute in Newcastle has developed a new stem cell treatment that can potentially help restore good vision to thousands of people with severely impaired vision due to a condition called Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency. This condition is a consequence of damaged cornea surface caused by disease, physical injury, or chemical burning.

For the new technique, which has restored good vision to eight people who had lost sight in one eye, a small biopsy from the cornea of the patient’s good eye is taken, and its stem cells are multiplied manifold in the lab with a special culture system.

Upon transplanting the cells back into the damaged eye, the damaged cornea can be effectively restored.

Vouching for the effectiveness of the new treatment, 38-year-old Russell Turnbull, one of the patients whose right eye was burned in an ammonia attack 15 years back, said: “The operation has improved the sight in my right eye from 10 per cent to 90 per cent, and best of all it has removed the constant pain and light sensitivity in the eye.”

Noting the success of the Newcastle method, Sajjad Ahmad, the scientist who developed the technique, said that it underlines the scope for using the patient’s own stem cells for reversing eye damage.

However, at present, the method is conditional on having one healthy eye from which stem cells can be extracted.