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Researchers reverse blindness with stem cell transplants

The paper, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found stem cell surgeries reverse eye damage caused by chemical burns. The 76 percent success rate (82 out of 107 eyes had sight permanently restored) surprised the patients immensely.

“They were incredibly happy. Some said it was a miracle,” said one of the study leaders, Graziella Pellegrini of the University of Modena’s Center for Regenerative Medicine in Italy, according to the AP.

The doctors took stem cells from the patient’s limbus, the rim around the cornea. In a working eye, stem cells in the limbus generate new cells to replace dead corneal cells. When an injury such as a chemical burn kills off the stem cells, scar tissue frames the cornea, clouding vision and causing blindness.

This new treatment fully restored eyesight in 82 of 107 eyes (not patients). It was a partial success in 14 eyes (13.1 percent), and a failure in 11 eyes (10.3 percent). Researchers noted this procedure wouldn’t work if both eyes were damaged on a patient, because doctors need some healthy cornea issue as part of the transplant.

Also, this stem therapy gives hope to those suffering from chemical burns but it doesn’t apply to eyes with damage to the optic nerve or macular degeneration; in other words, everyday blindness.

Recently, researchers made a breakthrough in using embryonic stem cells to combat retinal disease. They learned how to grow retinal tissue using stem cells. Study leader Hans Keirstead of the Reeve-Irvine Research Center and the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UCI said, according to EmpowHer: “This is a major advance in our quest to treat retinal disease.”

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