Corneal perspectives

Two independent findings could increase the availability of tissue for corneal transplants. A University of California, San Diego-led team has created a new source of limbal stem cells-which are needed for clear vision-by expressing PAX6 in skin epithelial cells, while a Harvard Medical School-led group showed that the ATP-binding cassette transporter ABCB5 is a marker for selection of limbal stem cells with enhanced regenerative potential.1,2

For the UCSD team, the therapeutic potential of the method might rest on whether it can produce a sufficiently homogeneous population of limbal stem cells for clinical use and find a clinically viable way to increase PAX6 (paired box 6) expression. The Harvard team has licensed an ABCB5 (ATP-binding cassette sub-family B (MDR/TAP) member 5)-

specific antibody to two stem cell companies-Rheacell GmbH & Co. KG and Ticeba GmbH-that will develop it for clinical use.The terms of the deals were not disclosed.

Clear vision depends on a transparent layer of corneal epithelial cells that derive from limbal stem cells. Deficiency in those cells is a leading cause of blindness, and in most cases the only treatment is to replace them by transplantation.3,4

However, to be successful, the transplant requires sufficient numbers of limbal stem cells capable of sparking regeneration. Often these can be obtained from healthy cells in the contralateral, unaffected eye, which provides an autologous supply. But that option does not exist

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