The cornea, which is the translucent external layer of the eyeball, may be repairable thanks to a new breakthrough study. Researchers have revealed that the natural protein keratocan, which is involved in the development of the cornea, can be formed by bone marrow stem cells which can differentiate into the protein.
The outcome of the study could aid those with the inherited disease that is abnormal corneal cell growth.
Researchers Hongshan Liu and Winston Whei-Yang Kao at the University of Cincinnati led the study team.
The study was conducted using bone marrow cells and injecting them into the corneas of mice to see if they would be able to modify corneal abnormalities that had been induced by the researchers to imitate genetic eye mutations.
The abnormal corneas in the animal models began to transform their shape and heal due to the injected bone marrow stem cells. This occurred after only one week according to the researchers.
“We found that bone marrow stem cells can contribute to the formation of connective tissues. 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,” Kao said.
A clinical trial is presently being planned. Future generations of those suffering from genetic corneal diseases could be helped if the trial is successful.
“When the donor cells disappear after a few years, the corneal disease often reoccurs. However, if we can place the stem cells inside the cornea, they will repair the lost function of the mutated gene, and stem cells can presumably renew themselves and maintain effective treatment longer, if not forever,” Kao said.
The research was presented in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, at the annual Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology meeting.