London, January 19 (ANI): British scientists have developed a revolutionary new stem cell surgery that may restore vision to millions of people with corneal blindness.
The researchers are testing the novel treatment on human guinea pigs in the world's first trials, and hope that their advances will lead to cures for other types of blindness.
The eagerly anticipated trials are set to start in Scotland this month, using 20 patients.
During the surgery, diseased cells in the patients' corneas - called limbal cells - will be replaced with healthy ones, taken from dead donors or grown in a lab.
The researchers hope that the healthy cells will encourage further growth, and help repair the cornea's surface.
The only treatments currently available for corneal blindness - characterised by a loss of cells on the cornea, the outer surface of the eye - are a transplant or a tissue graft, both of which carry risks of infection.
Surgeons also often face a shortage of corneas for transplant.
"It is exciting to be involved in such ground-breaking work. Piloting the use of limbal stem cell transplantation is a great landmark in the treatment of patients suffering from corneal blindness," the Daily Express quoted Professor Bal Dhillon, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh, who leads the study, as saying.
Winfried Amoaku, chairman of the scientific committee of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said: "There are some types of corneal blindness that are not treatable by any other means so if they can be treated in this way it is a very significant breakthrough, very exciting."
He even believes that the developments could later be extended to include those who had never been able to see, if their blindness was due to damage to the cornea.
"There are some people who are born blind due to problems with the cornea and those people may be cured by this treatment," he said.
Jon Moulton, a trustee for the UK Stem Cell Foundation, which is jointly funding the study along with Scottish Enterprise, said: "Vision loss is a serious condition that dramatically affects the lives of millions of people around the world. The loss of independence resulting from blindness and visual impairment can have devastating consequences for individuals and their families. Innovative pilot studies like this offer real hope."
Sonal Rughani, senior adviser and optometrist at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, said that the charity "very much welcomes this new clinical trial".
She said: "We look forward to further positive developments that could bring hope to many people who have lost their sight as the result of corneal blindness." (ANI)