For the first time scientists have derived and purified lens epithelium – an embryonic tissue from which the lens of the eye develops – bringing researchers from the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University closer to finding a cure for congenital sight impairment caused by lens damage.
Associate Professor Tiziano Barberi said that this breakthrough would "eventually help" to cure visual impairment caused by severe damage to the lens or congenital cataracts.
"The lens has, to some extent, the ability to heal well following surgical intervention. However, with congenital cataracts, the fault is wired into the DNA, so the lens will re-grow with the original impairment. This problem is particularly prevalent in developing countries," he said.
"In the future, we will be able to take adult skin cells, for example, and turn back the clock to produce stem cells. From there, using processes like we have developed for lens epithelium, we will be able to produce diseased cells – an invaluable asset for medical research."
The researchers say they will now focus on making a lens that is closer to resembling a human eye.
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