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Friday / June 21.
HomeminewsStem Cell Breakthrough Receives Awards

Stem Cell Breakthrough Receives Awards

Ophthalmologist Dr. Stephanie Watson and Associate Professor Nick Di Girolamo, Director of Ocular Research University NSW, won the program’s ‘Les is More – Big Heart Award’, named in honour of former New Inventors’ judge, Mr. Les Miller. This is awarded to the invention which has been motivated by the desire to help others or the environment. They were presented with the award last November for their world-first stem-cell breakthrough.

Dr. Watson and Prof. Di Girolamo pioneered a unique technique using limbal stem cells harvested from a healthy part of a patient’s eye, cultured on a contact lens and then transferred to the patient’s diseased cornea. In patient trials, this new technique resulted in improved vision and corneal health.

“We were very excited to win,” Dr. Watson told RANZCO News. “We look forward to progressing our research so we can treat more patients.”


When these cells were implanted in the damaged eye, vision was restored

They were also recently awarded a grant from the Australian Stem Cell Centre’s Strategic Development Fund and a Gold Star Award from the University of NSW.

U.K. Breakthrough

And in the United Kingdom, stem cell treatment has given a man his sight back. Russell Turnbull, who could not see with his right eye following a chemical attack 15 years ago, has regained vision after a ground breaking stem cell treatment. Scientists and eye surgeons at the North East England Stem Cell Institute restored light to the eyes of eight patients, including Turnbull, using their own stem cells.

In 1994 a scuffle in Newcastle saw ammonia being thrown at Turnbull, which hit his right eye and blinded it. The chemical severely damaged the cornea stem cells leaving him with a condition known as Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency (LSCD).

The treatment of the painful LSCD is extensive and quite expensive.

After 12 years of pain and darkness in one eye, Turnbull volunteered for the treatment by the team from North East England Stem Cell Institute. The experts extracted a small amount of stem cells from the good eye and cultured them in a lab. When these cells were implanted in the damaged eye, vision was restored. This is the first time in the world that stem cells have been grown without the use of animal products.

“This has transformed my life, my eye is almost as good as it was before the accident,” Turnbull said.

Lead researcher Dr. Figueiredo said: “Corneal cloudiness has been estimated to cause blindness in eight million people worldwide each year. A large number of ocular surface diseases, both acquired and congenital, share features of partial or complete LSCD.”

Dr. Figueiredo explained: “Chemical burns to the eye are the most common cause of LSCD. The stem cell treatment option is aimed at total cure of LSCD rather than symptom relief only.

“This new treatment will alleviate patient suffering and remove the need for long term multiple medications as well as returning the patient to functional and social independence.”

Professor Lako, who also worked on the project, said: “This study demonstrates that transplantation of cultured corneal stem cells without the use of animal cells, or products, is a safe and effective method of reconstructing the corneal surface and restoring useful sight in patients with unilateral LSCD”.