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Scleral lens with ‘healing’ cells to treat cornea wounds

21/11/2018By Myles Hume
An Australian researcher has developed a scleral contact lens containing specialist cells that promote the healing of corneal wounds.

The therapeutic lens, engineered by the Queensland Eye Institute’s Professor Damien Harkin, acts like a bandage consisting of cells with wound-healing properties.

Corneal wounds are typically difficult and laborious to treat, and current treatment requires the use of material from human placentas. However, recent innovations in this field – including the Australian-designed iFix corneal pen, which releases bioink directly onto the eye to help treat ulcers – are attempting to resolve this issue.

Harkin said his new treatment uses limbal mesenchymal stromal cells (L-MSC), which are isolated from donor eye tissue and subsequently attached to the inner surface of a scleral lens.

“We believe that the donor cells release a range of wound-healing factors that encourage repair of the eye’s surface.”
Damien Harkin, Queensland Eye Institute

“The donor cells are readily accessible from tissue that is usually discarded after routine corneal transplants. Based upon preliminary data we believe that the donor cells release a range of wound-healing factors that encourage repair of the eye’s surface,” Harkin said.

Harkin said the lens could be available within hours of a patient presenting to a clinic with either recently acquired or chronic damage to their eye’s surface.

“Our therapy could provide welcome relief for patients suffering from chronic conditions such as corneal ulcers and persistent surface defects that haven’t responded to conventional therapies,” he said.

“The new treatment could also become useful as a part of the first-line therapy in the management of acute eye injuries experienced in the work place or at home arising from exposure to caustic chemicals, scalding liquids or excessive heat.”

Harkin said it should also improve on current treatments, which involve the use of bandages prepared from amniotic membrane (AM) donated from human placentas, as they can display variable properties both within and between donor tissue samples.

“AM provides a limited supply of growth factors and components with anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties,” he said.

“AM is presently imported from New Zealand, which delays treatment and adds to its cost. We propose that a bank of well-characterised and tested donor L-MSC cells would provide a more reliable and cost-effective source of growth factors to quickly repair the eye.”

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It’s possible the new treatment will be available within a few years, should it pass rigorous clinical trials. The technology has been developed with funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.


More reading:

$1.1 million grant to commercialise corneal ulcer treatment


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