A number of Boston hospitals and healthcare systems have teamed up to solve the puzzle of how to grow corneas good enough to replace those that no longer work. They had a breakthrough recently when they took something they learned from cancer research and applied it to their corneal work.
The result: corneas that can be grown using adult stem cells.
This is great news, since previously corneas grown outside the body would lose their flexibility and become opaque. The researchers knew they needed limbal stem cells to make this work, and those are very rare. Until they found a way to isolate them using an antibody to a tracer molecule – ABCB5. Skin cancer research has shown that ABCB5 endows cancer cells with the ability to resist chemotherapy agents.
Since the cornea is the “skin” of the eye, the researchers figured that studying ABCB5 would give them important information in the treatment of corneal issues. And they were right.
This research will impact stem cell procedures in general; right now, clinical studies are ongoing to develop an ABCB5 antibody that will ultimately aid in the growth of new corneas.
The full text of the article can be found here, on Vector, Boston Children’s Hospital’s science and innovation blog.