March 23, 2015

Cord blood banking has been proven effective in the treatment of many diseases over the past several decades. More than 80 diseases, in fact, have cord blood banking and cord blood transplants listed as an option for a treatment and/or cure. Another disease that could soon be added to the list is one for the treatment of diseases affecting the eye, specifically the cornea.

The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped outermost surface covering the front of the eye. It acts as both a shield to protect the eye from outside elements and it is also responsible for almost 70 percent of the eye’s focusing power. The cornea is highly vulnerable to scratches, illness and diseases of the eye but it is also quite resilient in its ability to heal itself. But sometimes, if the injury or illness is severe or if treatment is not sought in time, it can lead to permanent damage.

Corneal diseases are the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and also one of the most preventable. Blindness occurs due to complications and inaction taken before the point that any treatment can be effective.

Keratoplasty, or corneal transplant, is one treatment related to healing of corneal disease before it leads to blindness, but a lack of donor corneas, or acceptable corneas, inhibits many patients from receiving this treatment. That’s where stem cells and cord blood comes in. What are stem cell research and cord blood doing in this area of medical treatment? Well, researchers are looking at ways of transplanting mesenchymal stem cells, derived from umbilical cord blood, into the patient’s cornea stroma in order for it to stimulate new growth and healing. Research has shown that cord blood stem cells are able to reduce inflammation when introduced into diseased tissue. By transplanting the cord blood stem cells into the diseased cornea, the cells are able to go to work to heal the area and therefore prevent further damage or eventual blindness.

In a study conducted at the University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine, stem cells taken from cord blood banking were injected into the diseased corneas of mice1. After two weeks, the researchers observed that the mice’s’ eyes had gone from cloudy to clear. Research by the team is ongoing to study the mechanisms behind why it works and if it can be effective in humans, but so far, the animal studies have been a success.

  • "Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stem Cells Suppress Host Rejection: THE ROLE OF THE GLYCOCALYX." Coulson-Thomas VJ, et al. J Biol Chem. 2014 Aug 22;289(34):23465-81. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M114.557447. Epub 2014 Jul 1. Found online: http://goo.gl/1SVuJR
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