Blindness cure will be pioneered in Scotland
The new stem-cell therapy could potentially restore vision to patients with corneal blindness. If successful, it could help millions of people around the world suffering sight problems caused by this type of blindness.
It will be the first time that a stem-cell treatment has been tested on actual patients in Scotland, rather than just in test tubes and labs.
The clinical trial is set to begin this month, funded jointly by the UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSCF) and Scottish Enterprise in partnership with the Chief Scientist Office.
Experts are confident that they can restore sight by using an innovative form of stem-cell transplantation. They plan to carry out a clinical trial of around 20 patients before moving on to larger studies.
The surgical treatment involves the transplantation of stem cells to replace diseased cells in the eye of a patient with chronic corneal disease. The cells are taken from a deceased donor and grown in the lab before being transplanted on to the surface of the cornea.
Stem-cell trials to help treat sight loss are taking place elsewhere in the UK, but the Scottish trial is the first to use "limbal" stem cells, which are used to repair the cornea.
Lead researcher Professor Bal Dhillon, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh, said: "This study is the first of its kind in Scotland and it is exciting to be involved in such ground-breaking work.
"Piloting the use of limbal stem-cell transplantation is a great landmark in the treatment of patients suffering from corneal blindness."
The researchers will also explore the use of immuno-suppressant drugs to help reduce the risk of the patient's immune system rejecting the transplanted cells.
Jon Moulton, UKSCF trustee, said: "Vision loss is a serious condition that dramatically affects the lives of millions of people around the world.
Innovative pilot studies like this offer real hope to people suffering from this chronic condition."
David Caughey, director of industries, innovation and commercialisation at Scottish Enterprise, said: "Scotland continues to be one of Europe's leading locations for life sciences research and development.
"This is just one of the many investments the public sector in Scotland has made in stem cells, demonstrating our commitment to developing this area of science to improve the health of the people of Scotland."
The trial will be led by Prof Dhillon, with colleagues at Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow and the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion.
'To see with two eyes would be amazing'
WEARING disposable contact lenses sparked the eye infection which caused Anne Young to lose sight in her left eye.
Since 1991, the GP's receptionist from Loanhead, Midlothian, has had various operations including two cornea transplants to treat the infection and accompanying glaucoma and a cataract.
The 50-year-old said: "I think it's the kind of infection there's no cure for, like the cold.
"If I close my right (good] eye and then someone waves a hand close to my face, I see a shadow moving, so there is sight there but the cornea is shadowing it."
She could potentially regain sight in her eye if stem cells from her good eye were grown in the lab and transplanted into her left, countering rejection issues.
She said: "It's difficult to understand how it can change you after being used to having two eyes.
"Something as simple as pouring a glass of juice, I have to make sure the edge of the bottle is on the edge of the glass otherwise it wouldn't go in.
"It would make a huge difference. Just to see with two eyes would be amazing."