Are you aware that adult stem cells can help in repairing vision? Going by the early results of the clinical trial published on 18th August in the journal ‘Science Advances’, it has become a reality. Let’s quickly delve deep into the further details.
In the case of people who have met with single-eye injuries, there is no treatment available under traditional methods. Though a cornea transplant can aid in restoring function and vision to the damaged eye, it can be performed only if that person has a healthy reserve of stem cells around the cornea. Generally referred to as limbal stem cells, these adult stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells. They maintain the clear surface layer of the eye and in their absence, the cornea becomes opaque, bumpy, and painful.
How Does Adult Stem Cells Help Repair Vision?
According to Dr. Ula Jurkunas, principal investigator and a corneal surgeon at Mass Eye and Ear, a Harvard teaching hospital in Boston, the process works in the following way.
1. In the initial stage, a surgeon harvests stem cells from the patient’s healthy eye. It is done by performing a tiny biopsy.
2. It is followed by the technicians dividing the biopsied sample into very small pieces. Further to that, enzymes are added that separate stem cells from their underlying tissue.
3. It takes two weeks for the cells to grow until they take the form of a sheet.
4. The next step is to transplant the sheet of cells to the injured eye. As a result, the natural process is restored which leads to the cornea functioning correctly.
According to the results published, this technique helped two patients in improving their vision without further treatment. There were two other people for whom the procedure helped them restore the function that enabled them to receive cornea transplants.
The regulators in Europe have already approved a therapy performed on the lines of the one mentioned above. Some doctors in the United States have also done other kinds of limbal stem cell transplants.
A Word Of Caution
Though stem cell therapy has made significant achievements, illegal and unauthorized stem cell clinics are posing a major threat. In the United States, it is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that has the authority to regulate stem cell products.
Products Derived From Stem Cells Approved By The FDA
For your information, blood-forming stem cells (hematopoietic progenitor cells) derived from cord blood are the only stem-cell-based products that are approved for use by the FDA in the US.
It is to be noted that these products are approved for limited use among those who have health issues affecting the body system that is related to the production of blood (termed the “hematopoietic” system). To know further about the stem cell products approved by the FDA, click here.
Points To Keep In Mind
If you are planning to go for stem cell treatment in the United States, make sure that you:
- Check with your healthcare provider whether the treatment has been reviewed by the FDA.
- Request the facts and ask questions if you lack clarity.
On the other hand, if you are considering to pursue treatment in some other country other than the US:
- Research about regulations applicable to products in that country.
- Keep in mind that the FDA does not overlook the treatments done in other countries.
- If the country in which you are seeking treatment does not mandate regulatory review of clinical studies, then there is a risk involved in it.
The path-breaking achievements made by scientists in using stem cells to repair vision undoubtedly offer a ray of hope for patients. However, it applies to patients who have one healthy eye left to harvest stem cells and also have suffered from a serious injury where a cornea transplant cannot be performed. According to Jurkunas, the count of people who fall under this category annually in the U.S. comes to 1000. However, make sure that you take the points discussed in the preceding sections into consideration if you are planning to opt for a stem cell treatment in the United States or any other country.