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Human umbilical stem cells cleared mice's cloudy eyes

Research will be presented at America Society for Cell Biology conference

Transplanting human stem cells from umbilical cords onto the abnormally thin, cloudy corneas of laboratory mice significantly improved corneal transparency and increased the thickness of the animals' corneal stroma, the transparent middle layer, according to research that will be presented at the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) 49th Annual Meeting, Dec. 5-9, 2009 in San Diego.

These research results come at a time of limited supply of donated human corneas for treating patients with severe corneal and genetic eye diseases. Human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells (UMSCs) transplants may prove to be an alternative to corneal transplant surgeries.

The transplanted UMSCs survived in the mouse corneal stroma for more than three months with minimal signs of graft rejection, Winston Kao, Ph.D., of the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine reported at the ASCB conference.

In contrast, human umbilical hematopoietic stem cells (HUHSCs), the stem cells that give rise to all blood cells types, rapidly vanished from the mouse corneas when they were transplanted into the animals' eyes. Unlike the UMSCs, the HUHSCs were victims of graft-host rejection.

Kao reported that histological and immune fluorescence staining showed that the transplanted UMSCs could trans-differentiate and assume the appearance of normal corneal keratocytes.

The new cells expressed critical keratocyte markers such as keratocan and aldehyde dehydrogenase as well as the adhesion protein, CD34, all with little or no graft reaction.

The animal model for these studies, a special knockout mouse, was genetically engineered to lack the gene for making lumican, a protein essential for the formation and maintenance of a transparent cornea. Knockout mice without lumican have thin and cloudy corneas.

The supply of human corneas for transplantation is under threat from an unexpected direction: laser eye surgery. Reconfiguring the refractive surface of the cornea through laser surgery unfortunately can leave the cornea unsuitable for later organ donation. About 50,000 corneal transplants are performed each year in the U.S.

Having his proof of principle in hand, Kao said that he believes that UMSC transplants as an alternative treatment for severe genetic and corneal diseases are well worth pursuing. Unlike donated corneas, the supply of human UMSCs is almost unlimited, Kao said.

UMSCs are easy to isolate from the umbilical cord, their numbers can be expanded in cell culture, and they can be stored ⎯ and quickly recovered ⎯ from liquid nitrogen when a patient is in urgent need of a clear, healthy cornea.

Kao's research team included scientists at University of California, Irvine, Bionet Incorporated, Taipei, Taiwan, as well as University of Cincinnati School of Medicine.

Winston W-Y Kao, Ph.D. (513-558-2802; Winston.Kao@UC.Edu) will present poster, "Cell Therapy of Corneal Diseases with Umbilical Mesenchymal Stem Cells" on Tuesday, Dec. 8, during the 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Poster Session 3, Program #1694, Board #B73, Exhibit Halls D-H.

Cathy Yarbrough | EurekAlert!
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