First Cornea Transplant made with Reprogrammed Stem Cells

A research team at the Osaka University has conducted the world’s first corneal tissue transplant using reprogrammed stem cells derived from skin tissue. The patient was a Japanese woman in her 40’s who suffered from an epithelial stem cell deficiency in her cornea. This condition can make vision blurry and can lead to blindness.

The patient received the transplant on her left eye on July 25th and was released from the hospital on August 23rd. Her eyesight had improved considerably and no problems have been detected so far. Since this was the first operation of it’s type, the team will continue to monitor the patient quite closely.

For the procedure, the team created sheets of corneal cells from induced pluripotent stem cells. These cell types are created by reprogramming adult skin cells obtained from a donor into an embryonic state where they can transform into other types of cells such as corneal cells. The cells which are transplanted are expected to continue making more corneal cells and therefore help in sight recovery.

The thin sheet like corneal tissues used by the team do not contain immune cells which leads the team to believe they are unlikely to be rejected. Conventional corneal transplant operations are subject to rejection due to the fact that immune cells get implanted with the rest of the cornea.

The team believe that just one transplant should remain effective throughout a patient’s lifetime. They plan to conduct another transplant later this year.

These pluripotent stem cells can grow into any type of body tissue. The world’s first clinical study using these stem cells was conducted in 2014 transplanting retina cells into a women who had age related macular degeneration. In the future it will become possible to create any part of the body using this technique. In addition the patients own tissue could be used so that the cells in the new gland or organ will contain the patients own DNA.

Kohji Nishida, the team leader, may have created a new treatment for people suffering from corneal disease. Current procedures require waiting for corneal donations from donors who are deceased. About 1,600 patients in Japan are waiting for corneal donations.

The team hopes to make the treatment practical in five years. Corneal disease is a result of loss of cells in the part of the eye that produce the cornea due to injury or illness.

To view the original scientific study click below

Woman is first to receive cornea made from ‘reprogrammed’ stem cells.