Siriraj doctors tout stem cell treatment success

Siriraj doctors tout stem cell treatment success

Siriraj Hospital director Prasit Watanapa, centre, and ophthalmologists Assoc Prof Pinnita Tanthuvanit, left, and Assoc Prof Ngamkae Ruangvaravate speak at a press conference declaring stem cell transplants have successfully restored the sight of 75 partially and completely blind patients. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)
Siriraj Hospital director Prasit Watanapa, centre, and ophthalmologists Assoc Prof Pinnita Tanthuvanit, left, and Assoc Prof Ngamkae Ruangvaravate speak at a press conference declaring stem cell transplants have successfully restored the sight of 75 partially and completely blind patients. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)

Ophthalmologists at Siriraj Hospital have successfully used stem cell transplants to help restore the sight of 75 partially and completely blind patients.

"This is the first time stem cell therapy has been used in Thailand to help restore the sight of the visually impaired," said the dean of Mahidol University's Faculty of Medicine, Dr Prasit Watanapa on Tuesday. "We transplanted stem cells on 86 eyes of 75 patients."

The team of eye specialists at Siriraj Hospital used a technique known as "Slet" -- which stands for Simple Limbal Epithelial Transplant -- to reconstruct the patients' damaged corneas.

The cornea is crucial for sight because it focuses light onto the eye's retina.

"Simply put, the technique involves the transplanting of cells directly without the need to create cell cultures in a laboratory before the procedure," said Dr Prasit, before adding that the method was first used five years ago in Thailand and has a success rate of 83% among Thai patients.

The conventional procedure that ophthalmologists use involves taking a corneal graft from a healthy donor, which is then added to undifferentiated stem cells and left to grow for two weeks prior to the transplant.

However, Dr Prasit added, Slet has proved to be more effective in restoring eyesight compared to the conventional technique, which has a success rate of only about 77% among Thai patients.

A patient suffering from a severe skin disorder called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, Prakop Kachornrith, thanked the doctors at Siriraj Hospital for restoring his eyesight after 22 years. "I can see again, although it's not as clear as before," he said.

"At least now I can do things by myself."


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