Hope corneal stem cell transplant can treat hereditary condition

A WOMAN who received the UK’s first corneal stem cell transplant today told how her son’s struggle with a hereditary eye condition inspired her to try the treatment.

Sylvia Paton, 50, from Corstorphine, was the first person in the country to undergo the ground-breaking treatment when she had surgery in February.

It is hoped that the transplant will reduce the vision problems she suffers as a result of the eye condition aniridia, in which sufferers are born with no iris in their eye. As a result they are not able to adjust the size of their pupil to protect the eye from bright light and the cornea becomes damaged.

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Ms Paton, who was set to discuss her experiences with Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon today, has to wear dark glasses outdoors on even the dullest of days, and has no night vision. She is extremely short-sighted and currently has virtually no vision in her left eye as a result of the cornea damage and a cataract.

She explained: “It’s not sore, but it is uncomfortable. The way I try and describe it to people is that if you can imagine walking along the street or driving on an extremely sunny day, and thinking ‘I really need sunglasses here’, it’s like that even on a dull day.”

She first heard about the trial three-and-a-half years ago and told doctors she would like to take part.

Stem cells from a dead donor were grown in a laboratory and attached to a membrane which was then transplanted onto her left cornea during a three-hour operation.

Mrs Paton could previously only make out dark and light through the eye, but it is hoped that the treatment will help repair her cornea, which in turn will clear the way for surgeons to carry out a cataract operation in a year’s time.

It is hoped that the combination of the two operations will restore some sight to her left eye, although, as it is a trial, nobody is really certain what the results will be.

Ms Paton, who described herself as “very determined”, has overcome her vision problems to work as a PA in the Scottish Government and raise a family – but sadly the condition was inherited by her 23-year-old son Michael.

She said her decision to take part in the trial had been partly inspired by the hope it might benefit him: “What I’ll get from it personally is that my son also has the condition, so it’s not only for me, it’s for what they learn when he gets to that stage.

“If we don’t have guinea pigs, we can’t learn anything, and I’m quite happy for them to learn from me.”

Dr Ashish Agrawal, the consultant ophthalmologist from NHS Lothian who performed the operation, said: “It is now 12 weeks since the transplant and I am delighted to report that Sylvia is recovering well.

“Her cornea is clear and I hope that it will continue to maintain clarity. However, this is the first and the major step in the complex visual rehabilitation process and she will require further surgical treatment to restore vision.”