Stem cell therapy is now being used to treat damage to the cornea, according to research published by the University of Sheffield, England, in December. The cornea is the transparent layer on the front of the eye. Damage to the cornea is one of the major causes of blindness.

What may be less familiar than the physiology of the cornea, is stem cell therapy itself. What are stem cells? As the word “stem” may suggest, a stem cell may be considered a basic building block of a complete cell, like a stem is to a whole plant. For stem cell therapy, an analogy might be, if you have a tree in your yard which has been damaged by a plague of the gypsy moth, for example, you would extract stem cells from a healthy tree of the same species, graft them onto the damaged tree, and healthy cells would generate and repair the tree.

It becomes a bit more complicated than that of course with the eye, but the basic concept is the same. What the University of Sheffield researchers have done is grafted the patient’s healthy cornea stem cells onto the damaged site, where the healthy stem cells then multiply, allowing the body to heal the eye naturally.