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Stem cells from the dental pulp of wisdom teeth can be coaxed to turn into cells of the eye’s cornea.

Researchers say this could one day be used to repair corneal scarring due to infection or injury. This could also be new source of corneal transplant tissue made from the patient’s own cells.

Corneal blindness, which affects millions of people worldwide, is typically treated with transplants of donor corneas, says senior investigator James Funderburgh, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“Shortages of donor corneas and rejection of donor tissue do occur, which can result in permanent vision loss,” Funderburgh says. “Our work is promising because using the patient’s own cells for treatment could help us avoid these problems.”

Experiments showed that stem cells of the dental pulp, obtained from routine human third molar, or wisdom tooth, could be turned into corneal stromal cells called keratocytes, which have the same embryonic origin.

The researchers injected the engineered keratocytes into the corneas of healthy mice, where they integrated without signs of rejection. They also used the cells to develop constructs of corneal stroma akin to natural tissue.

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