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Study Shows Stem Cells May Help Restore Eyesight after a serious Chemical Burn

Durham, NC, September (2018) – A new study published in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine details a novel stem cell treatment with the potential to restore sight after a serious chemical burn to the eye.

About half a million people worldwide are blind as a result of an injury, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, with the majority being young males between 18 and 25 years old. This is mainly due to traffic and sports accidents, or mishaps in the workplace. Assault injuries also contribute to this sad statistic.

Burns account for anywhere from 11.5 to 22.1 percent of all such ocular (eye) traumas, with alkali burns being the most common, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. They are also the most serious, as alkali reagents including lye found in drain cleaners and ammonia in household cleaners can rapidly penetrate eye tissue, reaching the anterior chamber in less than 15 seconds and causing destruction to the cornea. Penetration can continue to occur long after the initial exposure takes place.

“Stem cell therapy is still controversial in the ophthalmological field, but some studies suggest mesenchymal stem cells could be useful in repairing damaged ocular structures. This is due to their ability to differentiate into various cell types and regenerate tissue. They also are known to regulate the immune system and prevent scarring — both of which tend to exacerbate the injury,” said Yonathan Garfias, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Garfias is a member of the Faculty of Medicine at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and corresponding author on the study in SCTM, which he conducted along with colleagues at UNAM and the Institute of Ophthalmology Conde de Valenciana in Mexico City.

Although bone marrow stem cells have been used in several eye studies, he explained, collecting them involves invasive procedures resulting in relatively low amounts of mesenchymal stem cells. Another drawback is that the number of stem cells available in bone marrow decreases as the donor’s age increases. That is why the pursuit of easily accessible, non-invasive procedures to obtain stem cells has led researchers to focus on human tissues such as amniotic membrane, which makes up the innermost layer of the placenta.

“Evidence shows that human amniotic membrane mesenchymal stem cells (hAM-MSCs) have many advantages for use in regenerative medicine, including the ability to survive in mismatched transplant recipients” Dr. Garfias said. “The aim of our study, then, was to evaluate the effect of injecting hAM-MSCs into the cornea of the eye after an alkali burn.”

They conducted their study using rabbits, randomly dividing them into three groups of six each. Two of the groups were administered corneal alkali-burns under deep anesthesia, while the third was the control group and did not undergo a burn or treatment. Of the two burn groups, one was treated with a balanced salt solution (BSS) injection immediately after the burn was applied, while the other was injected with hAM-MSCs (obtained from placenta contributed by volunteers), also immediately after injury. These two groups also received antibiotic eye drops twice daily for 12 days.

At the end of the 12-day period, the animals were euthanized and their corneas examined. Those receiving the hAM-MSC injection showed several promising signs of regeneration, including a reduction in abnormal blood vessel formation and opacity, while the BSS group showed little progress in healing.

“The results also suggest that hAM-MSC injection induces an anti-inflammatory, anti-scarring environment that promotes corneal wound healing,” Dr. Garfias said. “In conclusion, we believe hAM-MSC injection is a plausible alternative treatment for corneal repair in cases of severe damage.” 

"These early pre-clinical results are certainly encouraging and demonstrate the need to further pursue this regenerative therapy that could mean a potential treatment for chemical eye burns,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “We look forward to seeing this work continue.”


 The full article, “Anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic effects of human amniotic membrane mesenchymal stem cells and their potential in corneal repair,” can be accessed at

About STEM CELLS Translational Medicine: STEM CELLS Translational Medicine (SCTM), published by AlphaMed Press, is a monthly peer-reviewed publication dedicated to significantly advancing the clinical utilization of stem cell molecular and cellular biology. By bridging stem cell research and clinical trials, SCTM will help move applications of these critical investigations closer to accepted best practices. SCTM is the official journal partner of Regenerative Medicine Foundation.

About AlphaMed Press: Established in 1983, AlphaMed Press with offices in Durham, NC, San Francisco, CA, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, publishes two other internationally renowned peer-reviewed journals: STEM CELLS® (, celebrating its 36th year, is the world's first journal devoted to this fast paced field of research.  The Oncologist® (, also a monthly peer-reviewed publication, entering its 23rd year, is devoted to community and hospital-based oncologists and physicians entrusted with cancer patient care. All three journals are premier periodicals with globally recognized editorial boards dedicated to advancing knowledge and education in their focused disciplines. 

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About Regenerative Medicine Foundation (RMF): The non-profit Regenerative Medicine Foundation fosters strategic collaborations to accelerate the development of regenerative medicine to improve health and deliver cures. RMF pursues its mission by producing its flagship World Stem Cell Summit, honouring leaders through the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Action Awards, and promoting educational initiatives.