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Innovative Contacts Could Help Restore Vision

MEMPHIS, TN ( – Is Star Trek coming to life? In “The Next Generation”, Geordi La Forge had special glasses allowing him to see, even though he was blind. 

Now, new research combining contact lenses and stem cells could eliminate the glasses.

It is amazing stuff and definitely seems out there. Stem cells are the building blocks of tissue growth; loading those cells into contact lenses could help those who have lost their sight because of corneal injury see again.

“When you take someone who really sees nothing,” said Dr. Chris Lievens from the Southern College of Optometry, “and now they see something- boy, that’s powerful.”

In fact, it’s incredible, but it’s happening. A new technique loading contact lenses with stem cells is helping restore sight. 

“It provides sort of a scaffold for these cells to grow across,” Dr. Daniel Fuller told, “and gives them a better probability of being viable long term.”

Fuller is the head of the contact lens department at Southern College of Optometry. The procedure starts by removing all damaged cells from the front of the eye.

“Following this,” said Dr. Stephanie Wilson, who works in the field in England, “we take the contact lens with the cells that have been cultured in the lab and simply place it on the front of the eye.”

Messing around the eyes makes many people squeamish. Would local patients be willing to try it?

“Maybe so,” said Shalonda Newsom, “I probably would try it. Technology is something, so I’m always open to new things.”

The whole thing is non-surgical; eliminating the need for corneal implants. That is a very good thing.

“There are a lot of side affects and long term ramifications with corneal graft rejections,” Lievens said.

So, for those with scarring in the eye, or burns, or any corneal injury, there’s hope.

“It’s a reason for optimism,” said Fuller, “and a reason to believe they may be able to restore some vision.”

Lievens stated, “If this is something I can employ within the next few years for patients, not only would it change their lives positively, it would change my own life.”

Lievens said he had 100 patients at the Southern College of Optometry right now that could benefit from the stem cell contacts. He’s hopeful the technique will become widespread in the next ten years. 

Beam me up, Scotty.