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Stem cells from own eyes restore man’s vision

SUNIL Kumar Das had lost all hopes when he severely damaged both his eyes in an accident at work five years ago.

In spite of visits to several hospitals, he could not find treatment that could restore his eyes. However, a month ago Sunil underwent stem cell transplant surgery and can now see at up to least two meters. He believes that although his vision is still hazy, he will become alright.

What’s interesting is the fact that the stem cells were recovered from his mouth. According to Dr Himanshu Matalia, director, Stem cell research, Narayana Nethralaya, when one eye is injured, stem cells are taken from the limbus, the area between cornea and the white of the eye which is a store house of stem cells. The cells are grown in the lab and then transplanted to the eyes, where they regenerate the limbus of the injured eyes and form the protective skin over the eye. 

When both the eyes are injured, the cells are taken from immediate blood relatives. However, there is a possibility of rejection and the patient has to be on expensive immunosuppressant drugs life long.  

As Das neither had his relatives here, nor could he afford the immunosuppressant drugs, the only option left was to perform the COMET (Cultured Oral Mucosal Epithelial Transplantation) surgery. However, this was not easy. 

“Sunil had started taking gutka, paan, etc, since he had lost vision. This compromised his oral hygiene,” said Dr Matalia. Sunil was asked to stop taking these addictives and six months later oral mucosal biopsy was done, where a small graft tissue from the mouth was taken.

The collected cells were spilt in two and grown on amniotic membrane in two plates. When the two samples were ready (cells covering over 90 per cent of the amniotic membrane), stem cell transplant was done on both the eyes in one sitting recently. Das is the second patient to have undergone this process in the hospital.  

Das, who worked in a granite factory, lost his eyes when a chemicl used to cut the stone fell in to his eyes. Although, he was taken to hospital immediately, the doctors couldn’t restore his vision. After visiting couple of eye hospitals, Das came to Malatia a year ago.  

Malatia said Sunil’s vision would improve when the membrane is absorbed. He would then decide whether a cornea implant is needed depending on the scarring of the eyes. The hospital waived Das’ treatment fee of Rs 30,000.

(Published in Deccan Herald on 30th June, 2010)

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