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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Cheek tissue to restore eyesight
The cornea lies on the outer surface of the eye
Doctors have used thin sheets of cheek tissue to restore vision in people with damaged corneas.

A team from Osaka University transplanted thin layers of cheek cells on to the eyes of four patients with a rare and painful eye condition.

The patients, whose vision had been cloudy, could see well afterwards, and their 'new corneas' were still clear more than a year later.

The research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This is very interesting research which has a lot of potential.
John Dart
The Osaka team hope their work may also lead to other types of grow-your-own tissue transplants.

The cornea is the clear layer of cells on the surface of the eye. It can de damaged by trauma or by a range of diseases.

Doctors can take cells from a healthy eye and grow them in a dish to produce a new cornea, or they can transplant corneas from donors.

But these techniques may not work when both eyes are too badly damaged by accident or disease.

The Osaka team worked with four patients who had Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a painful condition which causes cloudy corneas and dry eyes.

Often the eye can regenerate corneal cells - but none of the four patients had this ability.

Thin sheets

The researchers harvested 3mm (0.12 inch)-wide squares of mouth tissue from inside the cheeks and grew them into thin layers in the lab.

They used a special low-temperature technique to separate a very thin sheet off each batch and laid it on to the eyes of the patients.

The cell layers stuck on to the eye without stitching and developed into tissue that looked and acted like healthy corneas.

Writing in the journal, the researchers, led by Dr Kohji Nishida, said: "Corneal transparency was restored and postoperative visual acuity improved remarkably in all four eyes.

"During a mean follow-up period of 14 months, all corneal surfaces remained transparent. There were no complications.

"Long-term follow-up and experience with a large series of patients are needed to assess further the benefits and risks of this method, which offers the potential to treat severe ocular diseases that are resistant to standard approaches."

Mr John Dart, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, UK, told BBC News Online "This is very interesting research which has a lot of potential."

Mr Dart said doctors were working on an alternative method which involved taking very thin layers of cells from the cornea of a donor.

However, he said it was possible that using cheek cells from the patient themselves would carry a lower risk of rejection.

Artificial cornea project funded
19 Aug 04  |  England
Artificial corneas moving closer
08 Dec 03  |  Health

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