Nick Di Girolamo's breakthrough, conducted by surgeon Stephanie Watson, involved harvesting a few stem cells from patients' eyes, then culturing them on a contact lens placed over the cornea for 10 days. The stem cells re-colonized the damaged tissue across the lens substrate.
What's most amazing is that the procedure is simple and cheap. Any competent lab with an eye surgery set-up can handle it.
“There’s no suturing, there is no major operation: all that’s involved is harvesting a minute amount – less than a millimeter – of tissue from the ocular surface,” Di Girolamo said in a press release from the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
As shown on the picture above, taken from the University of Miami-Florida Web site, the cornea is at the front of the eye. It's what is covered by a typical contact lens. Soft contact lenses are made of a plastic containing water, so they provide a good substrate for culturing.
This technique is irrelevant to cases where damage occurs to the retina, in the back of the eye. Last year I had the retina in my own left eye beefed-up with laser surgery, and my mother lost her own sight to retinal damage over 30 years ago.
This is also irrelevant to cases of eye damage caused by diabetes, which strikes at the retina, the lens, and the fluid in the back of the eye, as well as the optic nerve.
But if your own eye damage is the result of damage to your cornea, this could be big news.