Friday, September 21, 2001

'I'm living proof that stem cells can do something good.'

N. Ky. procedure improves vision

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Four months ago, Dallas-area resident Marsha Lindsey saw the world as if she were looking through wax paper.

        She could see light and dark and shapes of people. But she couldn't see facial expressions, read a book to her children, or check price tags on items at the mall.

[photo] Marsha Lindsey is checked by Dr. Edward Holland at Northern Kentucky Eye Laser Center on Thursday. Mrs. Lindsey had a cornea transplant using stem cells.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        On Thursday, her world changed.

        “I'm able to see faces. I can tell people are wearing glasses or ties,” Mrs. Lindsey said. “If my vision stays the way it is right now, I'll be happy. This is better than it has been all my life.”

        The 24-year-old mother of three spent two days driving with her husband, Chance, from Texas to Northern Kentucky to receive the final part of a two-step sight restoration technique. She came all the way from Dallas to be treated by Dr. Edward Holland, who developed a national reputation in eye surgery at the University of Minnesota before moving here in March 2000.

        The technique that helped Mrs. Lindsey involved a human stem-cell transplant performed in July and a cornea transplant performed Wednesday. On Thursday, an eye exam revealed that the procedure was a success.

        “That tissue looks excellent,” Dr. Holland told Mrs. Lindsey as camera crews huddled around them in an office exam room.

        Stem cells are proto-cells capable of developing into a specific type of tissue when placed in the correct environment. Stem-cell research has stirred nationwide controversy — especially projects involving embryonic tissue.

        This technique, however, involves using adult stem cells that can be harvested from a relative, or, in Mrs. Lindsey's case, a cadaver donor.

        “I'm living proof that stem cells can do something good,” Mrs. Lindsey said.

        Mrs. Lindsey was born with aniridia, a rare congenital disease that leads to the deterioration of the iris, the membrane that surrounds the pupil, and the cornea. An estimated 60,000 people nationwide suffer from aniridia, Dr. Holland said.

        Researchers discovered in the 1980s that people with aniridia lack the stem cells to grow skin needed to protect the cornea. As a result, when people with aniridia received cornea transplants, they would fail in a matter of weeks or months.

        Surgeons in several parts of the country started performing stem-cell transplants to treat aniridia in the late 1980s.

        At first, five-year success rates were as low as 30 percent to 40 percent. But now, with better surgical techniques and improved use of anti-rejection medications, 80 percent to 90 percent of patients have good vision five years after surgery, Dr. Holland said.

        Mrs. Lindsey found out about Dr. Holland through research on the Internet, which she did using special equipment to magnify the computer screen text.

        Dr. Holland has performed more than 170 ocular stem-cell transplants since the late 1980s. Of those, more than 100 were done in the past four years, he said.

        If Mrs. Lindsey can avoid rejecting her transplants for at least two years, she has a strong chance of maintaining her vision for the rest of her life, Dr. Holland said.


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