Corneal Transplantation

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Reza Dana, M.D., M.Sc., MPH
Ula V. Jurkunas, M.D.

Corneal transplants restore vision to approximately 40,000 people each year. However, they fail in many others because the cornea is too unhealthy to accept the new tissue. For these patients, complete ocular surface reconstruction is needed before corneal transplantation can be attempted. Stem cells are used to rebuild the ocular surface. Currently though, the only access for corneal stem cells is within the patients other eye, which poses two obvious problems: Do we possibly jeopardize the vision of the one remaining eye if we take too many stem cells from it? What if both corneas are diseased? We are in the process of investigating the alternative sources of corneal stem cells, one of which is oral (mouth) mucosa. We have been successful in harvesting and cultivating mouth cells in the laboratory, and are now planning to bring this technique to the patient care. The development of the methodology of cultivated oral mucosal epithelial transplantation gives a great promise in the area of regenerative medicine and offers hope for a significant number of blind patients worldwide.