A year ago, Canadian Taylor Binns was slowly going blind after developing a rare and painful eye disorder that affected his corneas. Today, he’s driving, reading and living a normal life because of a revolutionary stem-cell treatment completed by a team of doctors at Toronto Western Hospital.
While on humanitarian work in Haiti, Binns developed intense eye pain and increasingly blurry vision. Over the next two years, Binns slowly went legally blind, with his doctors not being able to figure out the problem. He could no longer drive or read books. Doctors diagnosed him with a rare disease called corneal limbal stem cell deficiency, which was causing normal cells on Binns’ corneas to be replaced with scar tissue, leading to painful ulcers that clouded his vision. A variety of things can cause the condition, including chemical and thermal burns to the corneas, microbial infections and wearing daily contact lenses for too long without properly disinfecting them can all lead to the disease.
The doctors proposed a limbal stem cell transplant. The limbus is the border between the cornea and the whites of the eye, where the eye creates new epithelial cells. Since Binns’ limbus was damaged, doctors hoped that giving him healthy limbal cells from a donor would cause healthy new cells to grow over the surface. Binns needed a healthy match, which came from his sister. Healthy stem cells were taken from her eyes and stitched onto the surface of Binns’ eyes. Within a month, he was back to 20/40 vision. At his last visit, he had 20/20 vision in one eye and 20/40 in the other.
Researchers are working on using stem cells from deceased donors and using stem cells from the patient’s own eyes. This would require lab work to get the cells to multiply, but patients would be able to skip using anti-rejection drugs. This was the first time this treatment was done in Canada and there are several centers in the USA where this treatment is available.