Doctors and scientists in Italy have shown how stem cells can be used to treat damaged eyes and, in combination with gene therapy, a rare and debilitating skin disease.
Professor Michele De Luca of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia described the work to an international meeting of stem cell scientists in Milan (30 Sep – 2 Oct, “Challenges in Stem Cell Differentiation and Transplantation”) organised by the European Science Foundation’s EuroSTELLS stem cell programme in conjunction with the National Research Council of Italy.
Stem cell therapy involves the use of stem cells – ‘blank’ cells (‘toti- or ‘pluripotent’) that have not differentiated into specialised cells – to generate new tissues or organs. While widespread stem cell therapy lies some way in the future, Professor De Luca pointed out that it has been used already for many years in the treatment of burns. Many tissues of the body are continuously regenerated by their own population of stem cells. In the skin, such cells are called holoclones and for decades doctors have taken small samples of these cells from burns patients and cultured the cells into new skin that can be grafted onto the wound.
Professor De Luca’s team showed that cells of the transparent outer covering of the eye, the cornea, are constantly being replaced by new cells deriving from an area surrounding the cornea called the limbus. The cells differentiate into corneal epithelium and migrate to the cornea.
“If the cornea is damaged severely by a chemical burn or infection, for example, it can become opaque and necessitates a transplant,” Professor De Luca told the meeting. “However, a transplant will only be successful if the patient’s limbus has remained intact so that it can continue to replenish the new cornea.”
For many years doctors did not understand why some transplants failed – because they did not appreciate the requirement for the limbus.
In cases where the limbus is destroyed there has been little hope to restore the patient’s sight. Professor De Luca’s team decided to take a leaf from the way that burns are treated and grow a new cornea from limbar stem cells taken from the healthy eye.
By removing a small sample of these cells it was possible to culture a new cornea and graft it on to the damaged eye. The team showed that of 240 patients who were operated on in this way, the cornea regenerated successfully in 70% of cases.
The researchers then turned their attention to a rare but debilitating genetic disease of the skin resulting in a syndrome known as Epidermolysis Bullosa, in which the skin is highly fragile and prone to blistering due to faulty proteins that effectively anchor the surface layers of skin to the body.
In one form of the disease there is a mutation in one of these anchoring proteins called laminin 5. The Italian researchers obtained consent to carry out a small-scale trial of a novel gene therapy using skin holoclones on one patient, a 37-year-old male, on small part of his body .
“Because the patient’s body was so badly affected it was difficult to isolate any stem cells from his skin,” Professor De Luca told the conference. “Most people have between seven and ten per cent of holoclones. Our man had none. Eventually we found a few in the palms of his hand and cultured them from a biopsy.”
The team then used gene therapy to insert the correct laminin gene into the growing cells and grafted the new tissue onto the patient’s body. The graft was successful and after several months the skin remained to all intents normal, without the blistering and flaking.
“This demonstrates that it is possible to use stem cells in gene therapy for genetic skin disorders,” Professor De Luca said.
EuroSTELLS is the European Collaborative Research (EUROCORES) programme on “Development of a Stem Cell Tool Box” run by the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC) Unit in the European Science Foundation. ESF provides scientific coordination and support for the networking activities of funded scientists through the EC FP6 Programme, under contract no. ERAS-CT-2003-980409. Research funding is provided by the participating national organisations.
Sofia Valleley | EurekAlert!
International team discovers novel Alzheimer's disease risk gene among Icelanders
24.10.2016 | Baylor College of Medicine
New bacteria groups, and stunning diversity, discovered underground
24.10.2016 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
24.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences