The contact lens that helps cure blindness

The lenses heal damage to the cornea

A new treatment can restore eye-sight using stem cells grown on a contact lens.

The procedure uses a person’s own cells to heal damage to the cornea – the transparent outermost layer of the eye. The groundbreaking operation brought significant improvements in vision within a matter of weeks.

It is carried out under local anaesthetic, with patients returning home within two hours of surgery, removing the need for expensive hospital stays.

The three patients treated so far had very poor vision caused by corneal disease – the fourth most common form of blindness, affecting around 10million worldwide. It is caused by genetics, surgery, burns, infection or chemotherapy, and treatments usually include grafts and transplants and drugs such as steroids.

The team from the University of New South Wales in Sydney removed small samples of stem cells from the eyes of two men and a woman with corneal disease and grew them on a contact lens. The stem cell-coated contact lenses were then put into the patients’ eyes for around three weeks.

During that time, the stem cells moved off the lenses and began to heal the damaged corneas, the journal Transplantation reports. Using a person’s own cells removes any need for donors and means the transplant will not be rejected.

Researcher Dr Nick Di Girolamo said: ‘The procedure is totally simple and cheap. Unlike other techniques, it requires no foreign human or animal products, only the patient’s own serum, and is completely non-invasive.

The researchers hope the technique can be adapted for other parts of the eye, such as the retina, and even elsewhere in the body.

In Britain, Sonal Rughani, of the RNIB, said: ‘This small-scale study reveals promising outcomes with the use of contact lenses. We await further developments of this innovative nature.’

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