It’s being hailed as one of the most dramatic breakthroughs in the use of stem cell therapy to treat medical conditions. A group of Italian researchers announced this week that they have successfully used stem cell therapy to reverse blindness caused as a result of burn injuries to the eye.
The researchers treated these patients with transplants consisting of the patient’s own stem cells. In all, 107 patients were treated with stem cell therapy to treat their blindness. The treatment was found to be completely successful in 82 of the patients, and partially successful in 14 others. The researchers monitored the patients over a period of years, and found that in some patients, the benefits of the stem cell therapy lasted for up to 10 years.
These persons had become blind because of burn injuries to the eye from splashing heavy-duty cleansers and cleaning solutions at home or in the workplace. These burn injuries had caused corneal damage, and until now, the only treatment programs that these patients could hope for, were corneal transplants in which the patients received artificial corneas, or stem cell transplants from a cadaver. Both procedures are very risky. In a corneal transplant, there’s always the risk of infection and glaucoma, while in a stem cell transplant from a cadaver, there is a high risk of rejection.
In this new study however, researchers used stem cells from the healthy eye, and transplanted these into the damaged eye. That means there was no chance of rejection. However, the patients who might benefit from this therapy need to have at least one healthy eye. This treatment will not work in persons who are blind in both eyes. It can also offer no benefits to persons with optic nerve damage or macular degeneration.
Stem cell therapy has been used with some degree of success in treating a number of cancers, and research into its use is ongoing in the treatment of brain injury, spinal cord injury and other debilitating injuries. However, its use in the treatment of blindness and eye injuries has been relatively low profile, at least until now. California burn injury lawyers, who follow stem cell therapy research initiatives, will be very encouraged at these new developments.