Italian scientists report that they have restored sight to patients blinded by chemical burns using the patient’s own adult stem cells. The team treated 112 patients blinded in one or both eyes; some of whom had been blind for years. Adult stem cells were taken from the edge of a patient’s eye and cultured on fibrin, then the cell layers transplanted onto the damaged eyes. The adult stem cells produced healthy corneas and functioning eyes. Some patients regained sight within two months, while for others with deeper injuries the process took a year before vision was restored. Patients were followed up to ten years after the transplant. After a single transplant, 69% of patients regained vision; in some cases a second transplant occurred, with a total success in 77% of patients and partial vision restoration in 13% of patients. The long-term restoration was an especially encouraging success of the study.

Lead researcher Dr. Graziella Pellegrini, of the University of Modena, said:

The patients, they are happy, even the partial successes. We have a couple of patients who were blind in both eyes. Can you imagine for these patients the change in their quality of life?

According to the scientists, the key to success was insuring a high enough concentration of adult stem cells in the graft, so that the stem cells could continue to generate new tissue. The team reported their findings at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. You can find the abstract on page 64 of the meeting program (WARNING: 17MB pdf file!)