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Save Sight Society NZ: An update from former grant recipient Prof Trevor Sherwin on corneal wound healing

stem cell sphere copy 

A stem cell sphere colonizing the corneal surface.


In 2014, my research team at the University of Auckland was awarded a grant from RANZCO/Save Sight Society NZ which would help advance our work in corneal wound healing.


Since then, we have been working on establishing whether tissue engineering can be used to permanently restructure and stabilise the cornea of the eye, providing treatment for defects in corneal wound repair due to limbal stem cell deficiency (LCSD). LCSD is a devastating corneal condition which often leads to severe vision loss, significantly affecting the patient’s independence and quality of life.

Our research in this area is crucial as treatment for LSCD patients has long been frustrating with many patients having a poor prognosis. Recent advances in therapeutic options for these patients have come in the form of an autologous graft of the patient’s own limbal cells following expansion in the laboratory. However, this form of autologous transplant is highly undefined in that what is transplanted back into the patient is a heterogenous mixture of cell types that is applied to the whole of the ocular surface in the hope of success. The efficacy of this technique is unknown, and success is variable with the largest study of patients so far reporting failure in 21 eyes out of 88, with a further 10 eyes lost to follow up. Thus, although recent advances have improved treatment options for LSCD there are still significant improvements to be made for these patients.

Our study explores the corneal stem cell sphere as a new unit of tissue for transplantation that will provide a highly defined transplantable entity for implantation at a defined site (the limbus) that may have the potential to restore the limbus – the border of the cornea and the sclera (the white of the eye) – to near pre-LSCD condition. Achievement of this will not only correct the current wound healing defect for patients but may also provide the eye with restored long-term ability to heal itself.

Our preliminary data is highly indicative of success within this project and the use of human tissue will ensure the translatability of any findings into clinical practice as early as possible.

Research such as ours is essential in furthering eye research and the realm of ophthalmology in delivering innovative treatments to save people’s sight. Without the support of organisations like Save Sight Society NZ, we would not be where we are today, or where we hope to be tomorrow.

Prof Trevor Sherwin

The 2018 Save Sight Society Conference will be held at Rutherford Hotel, Nelson on 10 August. The theme of the meeting is Challenging Eye Care: Beyond Major Urban Centres.