McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
faculty member James L. Funderburgh, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, led a research team which recently reported that stem cells collected from human corneas restore transparency and don’t trigger a rejection response when injected into eyes that are scarred and hazy, according to their preclinical studies. The findings suggest that cell-based therapies might be an effective way to treat human corneal blindness and vision impairment due to the scarring that occurs after infection, trauma, and other common eye problems, said Dr. Funderburgh. The Pitt corneal stem cells were able to remodel scar-like tissue back to normal.
The ability to grow millions of the cells in the lab could make it possible to create an off-the-shelf product, which would be especially useful in countries that have limited medical and surgical resources but a great burden of eye disease due to infections and trauma.
“Corneal scars are permanent, so the best available solution is corneal transplant,” Dr. Funderburgh said. “Transplants have a high success rate, but they don’t last forever. The current popularity of LASIK corrective eye surgery is expected to substantially reduce the availability of donor tissue because the procedure alters the cornea in a way that makes it unsuitable for transplantation.”
A few years ago, Dr. Funderburgh and other University of Pittsburgh researchers identified stem cells in a layer of the cornea called the stroma, and they recently showed that even after many rounds of expansion in the lab, these cells continued to produce the biochemical components, or matrix, of the cornea. One such protein is called lumican, which plays a critical role in giving the cornea the correct structure to make it transparent.
In the next steps, the researchers intend to use the stem cells to see if they repair corneal scars. Under the auspices of UPMC Eye Center’s recently established Center for Vision Restoration, they plan also to develop the necessary protocols to enable clinical testing of the cells.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Media Relations News Release (04/09/09)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (04/09/09)
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (04/09/09)
The Times of India (04/09/09)
Pitt Chronicle (04/13/09)
The Guardian (04/16/09)
University Times (04/16/09)
UPMC Eye Center
Bio: Dr. James Funderburgh
Abstract (STEM CELLS, Published Online: 9 Apr 2009)