Corneal stem cell therapy
The surface of the cornea is covered by the epithelium consisting of several layers of transparent cells and constantly renewed by the action of the stem cells present at its edges (the corneal limbus). When corneal stem cells are damaged by chemicals, mechanical trauma, infection, contact lens abuse, severe damage can occur with opacification of the cornea. In these cases, corneal transplantation alone is not enough to restore corneal health and integrity. It is therefore necessary, before transplantation, to reconstruct the corneal surface, through an autologous stem cell transplantation, taken from the patient’s healthy fellow eye and grown in the laboratory in order to obtain sufficient quantities to cover the surface of the eye.
The cultured cells are grafted onto the affected eye. The most recent data of the literature show that the overall survival rate of the graft is about 90% at one year, but it goes down to 74% at 5 years, and 62% after 10 years. In any case, there is often (almost 50% of cases) a residual scar in the corneal tissue, which makes vision blurred. A second surgery, including corneal grafting, is therefore needed but it cannot be performed earlier than 1 year after corneal stem cell transplantation.
Vision Engineering Italy’s team has participated to the development of a new method of cultivation of corneal stem cells that may be able to improve the outcome of current techniques and may allow for restoring vision in a single operation. The work of our staff consisted in developing a method for analyzing the cultures of corneal stem cells non-invasively. Our work provided the Eye Bank technician with an instrument capable of accurately assessing the proliferation and health of cultured epithelial cells