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Applying Stem Cell Research to the Eyes

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July 11, 2011

Sharon Kleyne Hour - Power of Water Ūshow of July 11, 2011.

Applying Stem Cell Research to the Eyes

Ula Jurkunas, M.D. (Boston, MA), Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, "Corneal Transplant and Reconstruction Using Stem Cells."

Sharon noted that the rate of blindness in the world is expected to double by 2030 and that 80% of this is preventable. People like Dr. Jurkunas could help slow this down.

Dr. Jurkunas is a researcher at the Harvard Medical School's Center for Cornea Research. The cornea is the clear, hard part of the eye, through which light enters. To function ideally, the cornea must be clear, smooth and well hydrated (lots of water). Most of the water is contained in the complex, protective tear film that overlies the cornea and the sclera (white part). The tear film is the main refractor of light into the eye and retina.

Dr. Jurkunas agreed with Sharon's assertion that "good hydration equals good vision."

Sharon asked about dry eye and the environment. Dr. Jurkunas replied that the environment is very hazardous to the eyes and that the cornea is the most vulnerable part of the eye. With too little water in the tear film over the cornea, it becomes irritated, vision becomes blurry and corneal ulcers may form. This can happen to anyone but especially the elderly.

Corneal stem cells are formed on the surface of the sclera and in the corneal epithelium (membrane over the cornea). They are critical to keeping the cornea healthy and clear but they can become depleted or impaired. Causes may be overuse of contact lenses, infection, allergies, chemical burns and immunological disorders. There is currently no treatment for this.

Dr. Jurkunas' research involved removing stem cells from the mouth and conjunctiva (meaty corner of the eye), or from the good eye, growing them in culture and transplanting them to the affected cornea. Older people with severe vision loss due to corneal damage are the best candidates. It will not help macular degeneration. This procedure is in limited clinical trial and will not be routine for a while.

Regarding computers: Excessive computer use tends to reduce blink rate and therefore effect tear film hydration. Best is to correct this before it becomes serious.

Regarding cataracts and macular degeneration: Eat foods and nutrition supplements high in antioxidants. Also, protect your eyes from UV light. Children should wear wrap around sunglasses. Sharon observed that the sun is the eyes' worst enemy.

Regarding sleep: Sleep rejuvenates the tear film and cornea to heal up irritation and damage occurring during the day.

Regarding China: There is a lot more dry eye disease and eye infections in China because air pollution is much worse.