By Kelsi Matylewicz/Social Media Intern, Benco Dental

A team at The University of Pittsburgh conducted a study to investigate whether stem cells from human teeth can potentially be used to restore sight in those suffering from corneal blindness.

The results: promising news for those with impaired vision.

Cornea blindness occurs when the cornea is damaged after an external object has penetrated the tissue (even a poke in the eye). Bacteria or fungi from a contaminated contact lens can pass into the cornea also damaging it. These infections can lead to irreversible corneal scarring, which can impair vision and may require a corneal transplant. Most treatments are to graft a new cornea using the tissue from a cadaver, but donors are in shortage. The current failure rate of corneal grafts is about 38 percent after 10 years, primarily due to tissue rejection.

The University of Pittsburgh team, led by James L. Funderburgh, Ph.D., and Fatima Syed-Picard, Ph.D., both in the Department of Ophthalmology, decided to focus on adult dental pulp stem cells (DPSC) as a possible solution. They did this by conducting a study on mice, according to STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.

Stem cells were gathered from teeth extracted during routine dental procedures.

“If we could generate an engineered cornea using autologous cells, which are the patient’s own cells, and then use that to replace scarred tissue, we could bypass the limitations of current treatments,” Dr. Funderburgh said.

According to Stem Cells Portal, their final task was to evaluate how DPSC-generated corneal cells, or “keratocytes” would perform by labelling them with a dye (for tracking purposes) and then injecting them into the right eyes of mice. The left eye of each animal was injected with medium only, as a control.

When they tested the mice’s eyes five weeks later, they found that the DPSC-generated keratocytes had remained in the corneas and behaved similar to natural keratocytes. Their corneas were clear, and there were no signs of rejection — promising data for the team.

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