Stem cell restores sight to blind


Russell Turnbull, 38, suffered massive damage to his right eye when he was caught in a scuffle after a night out in Newcastle in 1994. On the bus home, Turnbullgot caught in a fight and was injured when one of them began squirting passengers with ammonia.
The chemical severely scarred his cornea, the clear membrane that covers the front of the eye, and destroyed stem cells that usually help keep the cornea healthy.
“I was in unbearable pain. It burned my eye shut,” Turnbull said. He was left with Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency (LSCD), a condition that seriously impairs sight, and was in pain every time he blinked or saw bright lights.

In an experimental treatment devised by doctors at the North East England Stem Cell Institute in Newcastle, stem cells were taken from Turnbull’s healthy eye and grown on a layer of amniotic tissue, which is routinely used as a burn dressing. The NHS banks amniotic sacs donated by women who have had a Caesarean section.
When the cells had covered the membrane, a piece the size of a postage stamp was transplanted onto his damaged eye. Two months later, the membrane had broken down, leaving his damaged eye with a fresh supply of healthy stem cells, which repaired the cornea. Eye tests six months after surgery showed that Turnbull’s vision was nearly as good as it had been before the attack.

Doctors treated seven other patients with LSCD. Some of the patients fully regained their eyesight, while others had more serious damage and experienced only limited improvement in their vision.

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