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NUI Galway research fights blindness

Friday, September 05 11:49:24

New research from NUI Galway is using adult stem cells in the fight against cornea transplant rejection.

The research has been published in the American Journal of Transplantation, and underpins a pan-European project which hopes to help the 100,000 people worldwide who undergo cornea transplant procedures each year.

Corneal eye disease is the fourth most common cause of blindness in the world and it affects more than 10 million people worldwide.

An unhealthy cornea affects vision by scattering or distorting light and causing glare and blurred vision. The most widely used treatment for this condition is cornea transplantation (or keratoplasty) where the diseased or scarred corneal tissue is replaced with healthy tissue from an organ donor. Although these procedures have been performed for over 100 years, unfortunately about 30pc of transplants are unsuccessful due to rejection by the patient's own immune system.

Researchers, led by Dr Thomas Ritter from NUI Galway's Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI), showed in a model system that transplant rejection rates could be reduced to as low as 10pc by administering a certain type of stem cell called a mesenchymal stem cell (MSC). MSCs can be readily obtained and grown from the bone marrow of adult donors.

Dr Ritter explained: "In recent years, our Immunology research programme at REMEDI has focused at a basic level on understanding the immune response to transplanted tissues such as the cornea as well as on the immune modulating effects of stromal stem cells. It is hoped this work will lead to much improved outcomes for the 100,000 people worldwide who undergo cornea transplant procedures each year."

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