The finding was published in the British Journal for Ophthalmology and came from a team led by Professor Andrew Lotery, at the University of Southhampton, who discovered that these cells, which were taken from the front surface of the eye, could be cultured to form retinal cells because they have stem cell characteristics.
The authors believe that this could lead to a new strategy to treat eye conditions, such as:
- retinitis pigmentosa - an inherited and degenerative disease in which there is damage to the retina and can result in night blindness, serious vision problems, tunnel vision, and loss of side vision
- wet age-related macular degeneration- a condition that occurs in people over the age of 50 that causes central vision loss and makes it difficult for people to see things that are directly in front of them, affecting writing, reading, and driving
According to the team, by using corneal limbus cells, patients would avoid complications with rejection or contamination because these cells are taken from their own eyes and returned back to them.
This is a huge breakthrough for the prevention and treatment of eye conditions and blindness, Professor Lotery, who is also a Consultant Ophthalmologist at Southampton General Hospital, said.
"We were able to characterize the corneal limbal stromal cells found on the front surface of the eye and identify the precise layer in the cornea that they came from. We were then successful in culturing them in a dish to take on some of the properties of retinal cells.
We are now investigating whether these cells could be taken from the front of the eye and be used to replace diseased cells in the back of the eye in the retina. If successful this would open up new and efficient ways of treating people who have blinding eye conditions."
This discovery has great potential to lead to the development of a new treatment because the corneal limbus is very accessible and stands for 90% of the thickness of the front eye wall.
Lotery added that further studies need to be conducted to develop this strategy before they can be tested and used in patients.