Local doctors, researchers make breakthrough in treating corneal blindness

BOSTON (WHDH) - Local eye surgeons have announced a big medical breakthrough.

Doctor Ula Jurkunas, a surgeon from Massachusetts Eye and Ear said they have teamed up with Dana Farber to restore vision –generally to those with fire or chemical burn damage.

“We are very very excited because we are performing the first trial in the US to treat corneal blindness with patients own stem cells,” she said.

The process begins by collecting the stem cells from another part of the eye.

Then, a biopsy must be conducted and sent to Dana Farber. Smaller pieces of the biopsy are then put into Petri dishes and new stem cells grow.

“We take those cells and we put them on an amniograft. It’s a tissue that comes from amniotic membranes — from placentas,” Dr. Jerome Ritz Executive Director of the Dana Farber, Connell and O’Reilly Families Cell Manipulation Core Facility said.

Ritz said that after about three weeks, the cells are fully grown and are then sent back to the surgeons at Mass. Eye and Ear.

That is where those cells will be sewn back into the injured eye.

“Scarring has to be nicely cleaned. The cornea has to be rehabilitated and the new cells have to be sutured with very fine sutured to the cornea without any damage,” Dr. Jurkunas explained.

As of right now, transplants can only be done on one individual using their own healthy tissue.

“Because these cells are the patients own stem cells there is no risk of rejection,” she said.

Those who have received the procedure have reported seeing improvements in their vision.

Researchers are now looking at ways to help those with two damaged eyes.

“I think the next step would be to see if we can get these cells from other places,” Dr. Ritz said.

Jurkunas said they plan to preform the proceedure on more patients and said that there is now the possibility to use stem cell therapy to treat other eye disorders.

 

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