Winston Whei-Yang Kao

Umbilical stem cells it appears could do a lot more than believed. A new analysis from the University of Cincinnati suggests that for individuals with corneal disease, umbilical stem cells could help in the recovery of lost vision. Apparently the umbilical stem cells help in recovering lost vision for patients with corneal scaring. Winston Whei-Yang Kao along with other scientists appeared to have uncovered the potential of stem cells in vision recovery.

The experts found that transplantation of the human umbilical mesenchymal stem cells into mouse models that are deficient in the protein lumican helped restore the transparency of cloudy and thin corneas. With an ability to differentiate into a variety of cell types, mesenchymal stem cells are known to be ‘multi-potent’ stem cells.

“Corneal transplantation is currently the only true cure for restoration of eyesight that may have been lost due to corneal scarring caused by infection, mechanical and chemical wounds and congenital defects of genetic mutations,” Winston Whei-Yang Kao PhD, professor of ophthalmology remarked. “However, the number of donated corneas suitable for transplantation is decreasing as the number of individuals receiving refractive surgeries, like LASIK, increases.”

“Worldwide, there is a shortage of suitable corneas for transplantation, and at the present time, there is no effective alternative procedure besides corneal transplantation to treat corneal blindness,” he further added. “There is a large need to develop alternative treatment regimens, one of which may be the transplantation of mesenchymal stem cells.”

Mouse models that lacked the lumican gene also called lumican knock-out models were used by the experts as part of the research. The lumican protein apparently controls the formation and maintenance of transparent corneas.

“Lumican knock-out models manifested thin and cloudy corneas,” he continues. “Transplantation of the umbilical stem cells significantly improved transparency and increased corneal stromal thickness in these mice.”

Supposedly, the umbilical stem cells survived in the mouse stroma for over three months. It seems to have showed minimal or no rejection and appeared to have evolved into corneal cells to repair lost functions caused by mutations.

“Our results suggest a potential treatment regimen for congenital and/or acquired corneal diseases,” Kao additionally elucidated. “These stem cells are easy to isolate and can be recovered quickly from storage when treating patients. These findings have the potential to create new and better treatments—and an improved quality of life—for patients with vision loss due to corneal injury.”

The author is of the opinion that the availability of human umbilical stem cells is almost unlimited.

These findings were presented in San Diego at the 49th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Cell Biology.