Funderburgh said it will take about two years to develop stem cell cultures that would be suitable for testing in humans, after which they hope to begin clinical trials.
To date, there has not been a shortage of corneas for transplantation in the United States, although there have been shortages in countries where religious and cultural taboos discourage donating or using body parts from the dead.
However, the LASIK corrective eye surgery renders corneas unsuitable for transplantation, which could mean a shortage in years to come, Funderburgh said.
Transplanted corneas have a low risk of rejection, and patients don't even need to take immunosuppressant drugs, Bensinger said. But because of the characteristics of scar tissue, people with corneal injuries are often not good candidates for corneal transplants, and rejection rates among them are higher, he said.
The U.S. National Eye Institute has more on the cornea.
SOURCES: James Funderburgh, Ph.D., associate professor, ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh; Richard Bensinger, M.D., retired chairman, Eye Department, Swedish Hospital, Seattle; Ivan Schwab, professor of ophthalmology and director, Cornea and External Disease Service, University of California, Davis; April 9, 2009, Stem Cells