Harvard Ophthalmologist Dr. Ula Jurkunas Introduces Stem Cell Transplant for Eyes

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New Procedure will Benefit Corneal Disease and Chemical and Thermal Eye Injuries; Corneal Stem Cell Transplant Successful in Clinical Trials, on the Sharon Kleyne Hour Radio Talk Show.

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Harvard Ophthalmologist and Corneal Stem Cell Researcher Ula Jurkunas, MD, has announced an important new stem cell transplant procedure for the eyes.

Speaking on the Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water radio show, Dr. Jurkunas, predicted that the procedure will offer a significant benefit to patients with certain corneal diseases, and corneal injuries such as chemical and thermal burns (The “cornea” is the eye’s clear portion).

Stem cell research has been in the news because the 2012 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded for stem cell research.

Dr. Jurkunas explained to host Sharon Kleyne that the human eye produces its own “adult” (non-embryonic) stem cells. These are found between the limbus (where the clear cornea meets the white of the eye) and the conjunctiva (the red meaty tissue in the eye’s inner corner). Their function is to replenish corneal cells to keep the cornea clear and healthy.

Production of corneal stem cells, according to Dr. Jurkunas, can become impaired due to a “disease entity” such as an infection, severe allergy, severe dry eye, immunological disorder or chronic inflammation; or due to injury such as a chemical or thermal burn. These traumas can cause the cornea to become cloudy and ulcerated. Prior to the present corneal stem cell research, there had been no reliable, non-invasive treatment for these conditions.

Corneal stem cell transplantation, Dr. Jurkunas explains, has the advantage of utilizing the patient’s own tissue as donor cells. Stem cells may be taken either from healthy tissue elsewhere in the diseased eye, from the patient’s other eye, or from the patient’s inner cheek (which has many similarities to eye tissue and also produces adult stem cells). Donor stem cells are then isolated and grown in culture. The final step is to transfer them to the affected cornea using a “stem cell bandage.”

The procedure, says Dr. Jurkunas, has resulted in dramatic corneal clearing and sight restoration. Although research is ongoing and the procedure remains experimental, corneal stem cell therapy is available in clinical trials. Widespread applications of the procedure, including routine testing for corneal stem cell deficiency, are anticipated. Stem cell therapy, according to Dr. Jurkunas, could eventually be used for macular degeneration, glaucoma and other eye diseases.

Dr. Jurkunas stressed the importance of water and hydration in maintaining a healthy tear film and cornea. The tear film covering the cornea is 99% water and is essential to the light refraction that enables vision. Dry eye and related eye infections, according to Dr. Jurkunas, can damage both the cornea and adjacent stem cell producing tissues that enable the cornea to repair itself. Water in the tear film stimulates the healthy production of stem cells. Water is also critical to keeping stem cells viable during transplantation.

Mrs. Kleyne and Dr. Jurkunas agree that non-invasive therapies using the body’s own tissues, such as corneal stem cell transplantation, could eventually prove indispensable in combating the worldwide health effects of global drying and dehydration.

For a written summary and/or an on-demand podcast of the interview with Dr. Ula Jurkunas, go to http://www.SharonKleyneHour.com. The Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water is broadcast live on Mondays, 10 a.m., PST/PDT. The syndicated talk show is heard on Voice America/World Talk Radio, Green Talk Network and Apple iTunes.

© 2012 Bio-Logic Aqua Research

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Mikaylah Roggasch
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