The Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) has developed a way to repair damaged corneas with specially designed contact lenses that have been treated with adult stem cells.
The most common treatment for people with severely damaged corneas is corneal transplant. However, this is not an option if the outer edge of the cornea is damaged, such as in injuries caused by chemical or thermal burns.
Like our skin, our corneal tissue is constantly regenerating but the adult stem cells needed to do this are on the outer edge of the cornea.
The technique, developed by the team from CERA and collaborators from the Mawson Institute at the University of South Australia, uses a special contact lens to transfer corneal stem cells onto the damaged part of the cornea where they multiply and regenerate the tissue.
University of NSW researchers have used a similar technique in previous experiments with an ‘off the shelf’ contact lens but the CERA researchers have been able to tag the stem cells allowing researchers to demonstrate for the first time that the transferred cells are contributing to repair.
Mr Karl Brown, a PhD student working on the project, which is led by the Head of CERA’s Surgical Research Unit, Associate Professor Mark Daniell (pictured), said it was an “exciting development” for both stem cell therapy and eye research.
“A lot of people don’t realise the huge potential for stem cells to treat eye disease and eye injuries,” Mr Brown said. “It’s my hope that this therapy will one day restore sight for people for whom traditional corneal transplants are not an option.”