Dr. Alexander Ljubimov and Dr. Clive Svendsen from the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute hope the USD$1.25 million grant will lead to therapies for previously untreatable patients suffering with corneal blindness.
“Our first-of-a-kind research deals with collecting human eye cells, reprogramming them back in time to a stem cell state and then using them to create a corneal cell source for transplantation,” said Dr. Ljubimov.
“We are first experimenting with allogeneic cells from eye donors, but hope to use a person’s own cells in the near future.”
A common cause of corneal blindness is limbal epithelial stem cell deficiency, which means that a patient’s history of genetics or eye injuries results in corneal scarring, blood vessel growth, and outgrowth of conjunctiva, leading to vision loss.
This stem cell therapy approach uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) – adult cells that are genetically reprogrammed to function as embryonic stem cells.
Typically, iPSC technology uses stem cells from other places in the patient’s body, or from donor cells. However, technological advances could make it possible to harvest stem cells from a patient’s own cornea or sclera and then transplant the reprogrammed cells back.