By Cristina D’Imperio

Hin Fai (Gary) Yam, PhDMore than 12.7 million people globally suffer from corneal blindness, many of whom live in low- and middle-income countries. Corneal blindness can be caused by infection due to bacteria, viruses, and fungi; from contact lens usage; or from the use of steroid medications. Trauma, dry eye disease, and diseases such as trachoma and keratoconus can also cause corneal blindness.

Currently, corneal transplants are the standard treatment for restoring vision to those experiencing corneal blindness. However, only 1 in 70 people with corneal blindness receive a transplant, and those that do are often faced with post-operative complications, graft rejection, and scarcity of donors.

Hin Fai (Gary) Yam, PhD, McGowan affiliated faculty and Research Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, and Yen-Michael S. Hsu, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and Laboratory Director of the Immunology Monitoring and Cellular Products Laboratory (IMCPL) are collaborating on a project that involves preparing corneal cells for clinical trials in order to treat patients who can no longer see due to corneal scarring.

They are the principle investigators on a National Institutes of Health-funded Cooperative Agreement study titled “Cell Therapy Program with Scale-up cGMP Manufacturing of Human Corneal Stromal Stem Cells.”

Dr. Yam and Dr. Hsu are working on a “paste” of restorative stem cells that can be applied to a patient’s eye to repair the scarring on the cornea. This would eliminate the need for a corneal transplant while also providing an option for patients who live in countries where a transplant is unavailable.

Their team has effectively reduced scarring in animal models, and their project seeks to establish manufacturing procedures that confirm the safety and the efficacy of the stem cells, which would ultimately lead to future clinical trials.

Their project can be found here.

Read more about their work on PittMed here.