Seeing is believing

By | Science & Technology New research opens up new possibilities for the blind.

Finding remedies to certain conditions is one of the main goals of science, because life is a precious thing. Think back to Edward Jenner and the vaccination against smallpox. At the time it was unheard of for anything to be cured in such a manner. Since that day medical science has only continued to improve through ongoing research. In the years since the vaccination was developed setbacks like tetanus, polio and rabies have all been managed with the concoctions science has unlocked. And now, scientists may be on the cusp of finding a cure to another condition, as new research has identified.

A collaboration between Bringham and Women’s Hospital, Boston’s Children Hospital, Harvard affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Research Institute and others has yielded incredible results. Researchers have found a method of enhancing the regrowth of the corneal region of the eye. This will be able to restore vision through the use of a molecule that acts as a marker to locate elusive limbal cells. The research will be of particular benefit to people who have been impaired by chemicals or fire.

Limbal cells are found in the limbus portion of the eye, and contribute towards maintaining and regenerating corneal tissue. Cell transplants have been carried out in the past to help the cornea recover. During that time it was unknown if the grafts contained genuine limbal cells. As there is now definitive proof that limbal cells can be recovered, there is the potential to cure large numbers of people. The research was published in the journal called Nature. It holds the distinction as one of the first examples of constructing tissue from an adult human stem cell.

The co-leader of the study, Bruce Ksander from the Massachusetts Institute, said “limbal cells are very rare and successful transplants are dependent on these rare cells. This finding will now make it much easier to restore the corneal surface. It’s a very good example of basic research moving quickly to a translational application”. From the research it may provide hope for the cure to other conditions if testing phases are becoming easier to manage.

Researchers utilized antibodies to detect the marker molecule referred to as ABCB5. The antibodies focused in on the stem cells in the tissue from expired human donors. The cells were then used to regrow fully functional human corneas in mice. A team from the Boston Children’s Hospital lab found out that the ABCB5 was being manufactured in human skin and intestines. A mouse model was used and discovered ABCB5 also occurred in limbal cells. The mouse model was key to understanding how ABCB5 worked due to seeing how the lack of the molecule gene would affect someone.

Co-senior investigator Markus Frank is working with the biopharmaceutical industry to develop a clinical based ABCB5 antibody that would meet US regulatory standards. His co-investigator Natasha Frank of the VA Boston Healthcare System, has remarked that a single lab wouldn’t have been big enough to contain a study of this magnitude. “It integrates genetics, knockout mice, antibodies, transplantation — a lot of technical expertise that we were lucky came together in a very nice way”.

Medical science has advanced exponentially over the course of the past two hundred years. The regrowth of corneal tissue is a reflection of how far it has developed. It’s a testament to the diligence and work ethic of researchers that this new data can provide hope for future generations. The first step has been taken to helping improve blindness in the long term.

How can this research lead to future possibilities in curing other conditions? 


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