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Contact lenses coated in stem cells may restore sight to patients with corneal disease, researchers say.

The UK’s Daily Mail (5/28, MacRae) reports that researchers from Australia’s University of New South Wales “have used contact lenses coated in stem cells to restore sight to patients suffering a blinding disease,” with the “groundbreaking operation” bringing “significant improvements in vision within a matter of weeks.” The new “procedure uses a person’s own cells to heal damage to the cornea — the transparent outermost layer of the eye,” and is “carried out under local anesthetic, with patients returning home within two hours of surgery, removing the need for expensive hospital stays.” The three patients who have been “treated so far had very poor vision caused by corneal disease — the fourth most common form of blindness, affecting around 10 million worldwide.” Corneal blindness “is caused by genetics, surgery, burns, infection or chemotherapy, and treatments usually include grafts and transplants, and drugs, such as steroids.”

The UK’s Telegraph (5/28, Alleyne) adds, “If early findings bear out, then the treatment could be effective for thousands of patients in Britain, and is so cheap it could be used for millions more in the Third World.” In the procedure, the investigators “removed tissue with regenerative stem cells from patients’ own eyes and then multiplied them in the laboratory on the surface of a contact lens.” Next, the contact lens “was…placed back onto the damaged cornea for 10 days, during which the cells, which can turn into any other sort of cell, were able to recolonize and ‘patch’ the damaged eye surface.” The Australian (5/28, Dayton) and Australia’s The Age /AAP (5/28) also cover the story.