By the end of the year, it is expected that the first cornea-limbal stem cell transplant in Ireland will have been performed. This is the result of collaboration between researchers, scientists and clinicians in the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology (NICB) in Dublin City University (DCU), the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital (RVEEH)and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS), which is also the National Eye Bank. This work was highlighted in a recent report in the Medical Independent.
The cornea is the transparent dome on the front of the eye. This transparent dome acts like a window, protecting the inner light detecting components of the eye from dust and germs, as well as acting as the outermost lens of the eye (focusing 65-75% of the light entering the eye). Hence any damage to the cornea resulting in scarring can lead to a reduction in vision or blindness. This damage can occur due to burns or in inherited conditions such as Aniridia for example.
The therapy provides a new outer layer of cells on the cornea, which restores the surface allowing light to enter the eye and restore vision. It will be a new tool for Irish clinicians to help patients who have damage to their cornea. While this technique has been available in a number of other countries, till now this was not a treatment option available in Ireland.
The work was supported over the years by the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin, Research Foundation, National Council for the Blind of Ireland, Health Research Board Partnership Award (PA/2007/08), 3U Biomedical Research (DCU-NUI Maynooth-RCSI), and the Pharmacia-Upjohn Irish College of Ophthalmologists Fellowship award.
Scientist in NICB who were involved in this research include Dr Kishore Reddy (now based in Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard, Boston), Dr Clair Gallagher and Prof. Martin Clynes. The research is now focusing on developing new therapies for the inner layers of the cornea.