A woman in Japan with a corneal disease has become the first person in the world to receive a corneal transplant made from induced pluripotent stem cells, according to a team of researchers led by ophthalmologist Kohji Nishida at Osaka University.
The cornea, a clear layer that covers the eye, contains stem cells that repair damage and maintain vision. These stem cells can be lost through injury or disease, which can then cause blurry vision and lead to blindness. As part of a clinical trial, the team performed a cornea transplant on a woman in her 40s with a corneal disease that caused her to lose these stem cells. The induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs) used in the transplant were taken from an adult donor, reprogrammed into an undifferentiated state, and then induced to develop into corneal stem cells.
In March, the Japanese health ministry gave Nishida permission to perform the procedure on the patient and three others, Nature reported at the time. The first transplant was performed July 25, and the second transplant is anticipated for later this year. “We have only conducted the first operation and we are continuing to monitor the patient carefully,” Nishida said at an August 29 press conference, reports The Japan Times.
The patient continued to have a clear cornea in the month following the transplant and her vision improved, Nishida added, according to Nature yesterday (September 2). The researchers expect her restored vision to last a lifetime.
This new treatment could become a practical way to restore vision in patients who would otherwise have to wait for a corneal transplant from a deceased donor. Currently, around 1,600 people are on the wait list for such a procedure in Japan, according to The Japan Times, and a 2016 JAMA Ophthalmology survey estimates that 12.7 million people are in need of a corneal transplant worldwide. The iPSC cornea developers say they hope to have their procedure performed in clinics in five years.
Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at email@example.com.