New stem cell technique to treat corneal blindness

Hyderabad: In what is touted to revolutionise stem cell medicine for treating corneal blindness in the world, two city-based scientists from LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) has found a new surgical technique to grow stem cells directly on the patient’s eye, instead of culturing them in a laboratory .

Developed and perfected by LVPEI’s Dr Virender Sangwan, director, Srujana Centre for Innovation and Dr Sayan Basu, scientist, Cornea and Anterior Segment Services, the innovative technique is expected to help 20% of all corneal blind ness cases in the world. In India, the number of corneal blindness cases is estimated to be around 1.8 million.

Known as Simple Limbal Epithelial Treatment (SLET), the new technique has been successfully performed on 302 eye patients in Hyderabad during 2010-2015 and has been scientifically validated by eight external groups including Harvard Medical School and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, USA.

This was soon followed by the research publication of long-term study outcome on 125 Hyderabad-based eye patients, including 60 children in the latest edition of American Academy of Opt halmology-2016. “Earlier, in cases of corneal blindness arising out of acid burns, thermal burns, severe eye injuries, adverse drug reactions and infections, patients had to approach private labs to get stem cells cultured for 2-3 weeks before it was used to replace the damaged cornea (transparent layer on the eye). Now, with SLET, we are growing the cells directly on the patient’s damaged eye itself,“ said Dr Basu.

Interestingly , SLET does not require any regulatory approval from any agencies like US Food and Drug Administration or Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) before it can be performed by a trained corneal surgeon.

“This is because the new surgical technique comes within the scope of surgeon’s practice, requiring no special approval from agencies like US FDA,“ said Dr James Chodosh, Harvard Medical School, Boston, US, who too has performed the new procedure on corneal patients in the USA. “The new technique would also be a boon to developing countries like Mexico and other Latin American and African countries,“ said Dr Arturo Ramirez-Miranda, a corneal expert from Mexico.

Meanwhile, private stem cell companies offering such treatments are likely to be hit hard and may probably go out of business for several reasons.

“In India, stem cell culture in private labs for treating corneal blindness in one eye costs around Rs 60, 000. In Europe, the same procedure costs 40,000 Euro and $20,000 in the US,“ said Dr Sangwan.In contrast, the new technique costs Rs 12,000 for one eye in Hyderabad.

-From  Times of India

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