A recent University of Cincinnati study using mice showed that bone marrow stem cells can switch roles and produce keratocan, a natural protein involved in the growth of the cornea—the transparent, outer layer of the eyeball. This ability of marrow cells to “differentiate” into keratocan-producing cells might provide a means for treating abnormal corneal cell growth in people, thus preventing blindness in future generations who suffer from genetic corneal diseases.
Researchers Winston Whei-Yang Kao, PhD, professor of ophthalmology, and Hongshan Liu, PhD, research scientist in the department of ophthalmology, induced corneal abnormalities that mimicked genetic eye mutations and then injected bone marrow stem cells into the corneas to see if they altered the mutations. The study showed that after only one week, the abnormal corneas of animal models injected with bone marrow stem cells began to change shape and heal.
“We found that bone marrow stem cells can contribute to the formation of connective tissues,” Kao said. “If we can change the function of non-corneal bone marrow stem cells by introducing them into human corneas, we can possibly repair the loss of visual sharpness caused by mutations.”
Currently, cornea transplants have been successful to limited degree, but do not always correct the problem.
Illustration: The green in this diagram shows bone marrow stem cells that have been injected into the eye and have taken on the properties of corneal cells. After being injected, the stem cells begin expressing cornea-specific proteins. This technology could one day help cure genetic eye diseases. –University of Cincinnati.
University of Cincinnati Health News (05/10/07)
Bioresearch Online (05/10/07)
China View (05/11/07)
Medical News Today (05/12/07)
Science Daily (05/13/07)