Stem cells from Puneeth Rajkumar’s eyes to help many regain vision

Puneet Rajkumar  


Kannada actor Puneeth Rajkumar’s eye donation has not just given the gift of sight to four people, but may also help many others regain their vision in the future. Doctors at Narayana Nethralaya, who had collected the late actor’s corneas, said the corneal epithelial stem cells are being cultured to treat people who may lose vision due to eye injuries such as cracker burns, chemical and acid injuries.

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Following in the footsteps of his father Dr. Rajkumar, the family of Puneeth Rajkumar donated his eyes on October 29. Soon after he was declared dead, Puneeth Rajkumar’s brother Raghavendra called Dr. Rajkumar Eye Bank, which is run by Narayana Nethralaya, to collect the actor’s eyes. Dr. Rajkumar had pledged the eyes of his entire family during the inaugural function of the eye bank in 1994.

Doctors, who sliced the corneas and transplanted them in four corneal blind patients, said each eye was used to treat two patients by separating the superior and deeper layers of the cornea.

K. Bhujang Shetty, chairman and managing director of Narayana Nethralaya, said the superior layer was transplanted to two patients, who had superficial corneal disease, and only the deeper layer was transplanted to patients with endothelial or deep corneal layer disease.

“Besides this, the limbal rim (white part of the eye near the circumference of the cornea), which was not used for the transplants, is being cultured in our laboratory to generate ‘Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells’ for potential use in patients with Limbal Stem Cell deficiency, cracker burns, chemical injuries, acid burns and other serious disorders,” the doctor told The Hindu on Monday.

“The process will take another three weeks. Although the exact number of people who can be treated using the stem cells cannot be specified as of now, we are hoping it may help at least ten others. Usually, two corneas from a deceased individual are transplanted into two corneal blind patients. But, we are going out of our way to use Puneeth's corneal tissues to the maximum to honour the contributions made by his family,” the doctor said.

Huge spike in eye donations

The late actor’s eye donation has inspired many resulting in a huge spike in eye pledges in the last fortnight. Dr. Shetty said the Dr. Rajkumar Eye Bank has received nearly 8,000 eye pledges in the last fortnight.

“Every day we have been witnessing a rush of people at the hospital filling eye-pledge declarations. We received 3,100 pledges at the Palace Ground event organised by his family to mark the 11th day ritual. In the last fortnight, families of 20 deceased persons donated a total of 40 corneas. The late actor’s eye donation has reignited the spirit of eye donation in Karnataka,” said Dr Shetty.

Pointing out that eye donations had literally come to a halt during the first four months of the pandemic, Dr Shetty said: “Although donations were picking up this year, we had not managed to reach even 40% of collections that happened during the pre-COVID-19 era. This is the first time we are seeing a huge response after donation from one deceased donor,” he added.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 9:24:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/stem-cells-from-puneeths-eyes-to-help-many-regain-vision/article37509177.ece

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