A novel stem cell-based treatment method for serious corneal damage is being developed at BioMediTech (BMT), the joint institute of the University of Tampere and Tampere University of Technology. A new project is about to start investigating how this innovation could be made available to patients and the doctors who treat them.
The project is being carried out by Associate Professor Heli Skottman and her research team together with BMT’s business development team in cooperation with international experts.
The cornea is the transparent tissue located on the outer surface of the eye, and the epithelial cells on the surface of the cornea are renewed by stem cells called limbal cells. These cells are located in the limbus on the edge of the cornea, which also acts as a physical barrier between the cornea, which contains no blood vessels, and the conjunctiva, which has blood vessels.
Damage to the limbal area or the dysfunction of the limbal stem cells may lead to stem cell deficiency. In such cases, the conjunctiva and its blood vessels spread over the cornea, and the epithelial cells no longer regenerate, leading to a lack of transparency in the cornea that most often leads to blindness.
Currently, damage to the cornea is mainly treated with corneal transplants. However, the transplants do not contain limbal stem cells, and because of this, the transplant alone is not suitable for patients who suffer from stem cell deficiency.
The method developed at BMT has succeeded in differentiating limbal stem cells from human pluripotent stem cells. The project’s aims are to identify the areas of application for this method, clarify the regulatory requirements and establish a commercialisation strategy.
The ultimate goal of the project is to find ways of treating those patients in particular who have a limbal stem cell deficiency in both eyes. Currently, no treatment is available for these patients.
The EUR 750,000 project is funded by the University of Tampere together with TEKES – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, which is providing the two-and-a-half year project with EUR 526,000 from the “New knowledge and business from research ideas” research fund.
For more information, please contact:
Associate Professor Heli Skottman, tel. +358 (0)50 396 9645