Stem cells discovered in layer behind cornea could treat blindness
2 October 2014
Scientists at the University of Southampton have discovered that
a region at the front of the eye harbours special stem cells that
could treat degenerative retinal diseases.
This part of the eye is called the ‘corneal limbus’ and is a
narrow gap lying between the transparent cornea and white sclera.
The research, published in PLOS ONE, showed that stem cells can
be cultured from the corneal limbus in vitro. Under the correct
culture conditions, these cells could be directed to behave like the
cells needed to see light - photoreceptor cells.
The loss of photoreceptors cells causes irreversible blindness
and researchers hope that this discovery could lead to new
treatments for conditions such as age related macular degeneration,
the leading cause of blindness in the developed world which affects
around one in three people in the UK by age of 75.
Professor Andrew Lotery, of the University of Southampton and a
Consultant Ophthalmologist at Southampton General Hospital led the
study, commented, “These cells are readily accessible, and they have
surprising plasticity, which makes them an attractive cell resource
for future therapies. This would help avoid complications with
rejection or contamination because the cells taken from the eye
would be returned to the same patient. More research is now needed
to develop this approach before these cells are used in patients.”
Furthermore, these stem cells also exist in aged human eyes, and
can be cultured even from the corneal limbus of 97-year olds.
Therefore this discovery opens up the possibility of new treatments
for the older generations, researchers believe.
Xiaoli Chen, et al. Adult Limbal Neurosphere Cells: A Potential
Autologous Cell Resource for Retinal Cell Generation. Published:
October 01, 2014. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108418
under open access: