Stem cell treatment for chemical burns Q&A

In June 2018, the BBC aired a documentary series called 'how the NHS changed our world'. One of the episodes was filmed at Moorfields Eye Hospital and focused on a range of pioneering treatments and research being carried out here including a recently developed stem cell treatment for patients who have had chemical burns to one eye. Below are some common Q&As around this procedure

How does this treatment work?

The treatment works by taking a biopsy of stem cells from a person’s healthy eye, which are then taken to a lab in Italy where they grow over the course of several months. After the growth is completed there is another surgery in which the damaged tissue is removed and the stem cells are implanted into the damaged eye with the aim of re-growing as non-damaged cells. 

If this is successful then the patient will undergo a corneal transplant around a year later which should restore their vision. 

Is this available as a treatment?

We hope it will be available on the NHS very soon. Moorfields is likely to be one of the first treatment centres.

Who can benefit from the treatment?

Once the treatment is available, it will be available to patients who have had chemical burns in one eye more than twelve months ago and have undergone another form of treatment prior to this.

As is the case for all specialist treatment across the NHS, you will need to be referred into this service by an ophthalmologist.

Will it be available across the UK?

It will not be available in multiple locations. Moorfields will initially be the only place in the UK and one of the few places in Europe that can offer it as treatment.

Why isn’t this available to people who have chemical burn damage to both eyes?

Unfortunately, because of the nature of the treatment, it requires healthy stem cells to be taken from one eye to be implanted in the other. If both eyes are damaged then this isn’t possible and therefore the treatment will not work. We are working on new treatments to help patients affected in both eyes.

Can this procedure be used to treat any other conditions?

No, it is only applicable to people who have chemical burns to their eyes, it cannot be used to treat other conditions.

What should I do if I have had a chemical burn to my eyes/been involved in an acid attack?

The most important thing to do if you have chemical burns to your eyes is call 999 immediately. While waiting for the paramedics to arrive you should try to carefully remove any items of contaminated clothing and rinse the area with as much clean water as possible. More information is given on the NHS Choices website