The Magical Stem Cells

Aladdin rubbed the lamp and poof! A strange mist enveloped Aladdin. Out from the mist emerged a genie who said, “Your wish is my command”.
Did you know that there is a similar genie in our body? There are cells in our body called stem cells which have the ability to turn into cells of any special type. Your liver requires new liver cells? Voila! ‘Your wish is my command’ say the stem cells and produce cells which look and work like your liver cells. Did you say you wanted new skin cells? ‘Sure, why not!’ Not only can they turn into other specialised cells, they also continue to divide for longer periods of time.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could have these stem cells under our control to be used as we pleased? Well, science is soon making that possible. After having used stem cells for treating blood diseases, researchers have now turned to the eye.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield published an article in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, where they described a new method to help in the grafting of stem cells onto the eye. A disc has been designed, made of biodegradable material which can be fixed over the cornea. This disc has pockets in which stem cells taken from the patient’s healthy eye can be loaded. Dr. Ilida Ortega, from Sheffield explains how the material in the centre of the disc is thinner so that it biodegrades faster. This will allow the stem cells to grow across the surface of the cornea (outer transparent layer of the eye) and repair the cornea.

Why is everyone going gaga over this new research? Which Aladdin, will this genie help?

Loss of vision due to damage to the cornea is commonly due to injuries to the cornea, scars after infections or other eye surgeries, inherited defects and chronic dry eyes causing inflammation. Currently, treatment options include corneal transplants or grafting stem cells using a donated human membrane as a temporary carrier that delivers the stem cells.
But the treatments can fail after a few years if the repaired eyes do not retain the stem cells to carry out on-going repair. Without a constant repair, a scar tissue forms across the cornea again leading to vision loss. Also, not everybody has access to donor tissues.

Since this new disc is made of biodegradable material like sutures that dissolve, the disc should not pose a problem to the body. Using synthetic materials reduce the risk of disease transmission seen with live human tissue. Also, this can be easily made available to everybody.

Indians would be relieved to hear that clinical trials would soon begin in India. The magic lamp is now in your hands. Wouldn’t you want to rub it?

You may also like to read:Limbal Stem Cells Deficiency

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