Thursday, July 10, 2014

Researchers Regenerate Cornea, Successfully Grow Tissue from Stem Cells

A team of Boston researchers has identified a way to leverage limbal stem cells in order to regenerate human corneal tissue—One of the first examples of developing tissue from an adult-derived human stem cell.  The research, a collaboration between Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Boston Children’s Hospital, the VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham Women’s Hospital, provides hope for those with eye-damaging injuries or diseases. 

The loss of limbal stem cells, which help maintain and restore corneal tissue, is one of the leading causes of blindness. 

It’s long been known that limbal stem cells have powerful regenerative potential, but the issue has been locating these stem cells.  The breakthrough came when Markus Frank, M.D. and Natasha Frank, M.D., co-senior investigators on the study, discovered the existence of ABCB5 molecules in limbal stem cells as well as their role in the maintenance and survival of the cell.  Scientists were then able to leverage the ABCB5 molecule as a marker for these cells and more easily identify them.  

Stem Cell Therapy Research Tissue Grow
The Frank team then put this theory to the test on two groups of mice--A group with fully functioning limbal cells and those without.  Using the presence of the ABCB5 molecule, researchers were able to locate and then extract these cells from donor tissue and transplant them into the corneal tissue of one of the groups.  They found that this group of mice was able to re-generate fully functioning corneas.  

The control group was divided in two with half the mice being given limbal cells that were ABCB5 negative and half receiving no limbal cells.  Both of these groups failed to repair the damaged tissue.  This helped to confirm ABCB5 molecule status as being responsible for the regenerative properties of these stem cells.  

“ABCB5 allows limbal cells to survive, protecting them from apoptosis [programmed cell death],” said Markus Frank.  “The mouse model allowed us for the first time to understand the role of ABCB5 in normal development, and should be very important to the field in general,” added Natash Frank. 

What’s next for the team?  Said Frank in a Fox News interview, “For the first step, we’re really working towards an autologous graft in patients who are blind in one eye.  And then the second step, we’d really work towards using donor derived cells to transplant in a similar manner that may require immune suppression – but it may not.” 

What else is new in the field of cell therapy?  Join us for the Cell Therapy Bioprocessing conference, September 15-16, Boston, MA.  Download the agenda to see what’s on tap.

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