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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences 

Fox Center Receives Donation to Further Research on Stem Cell Therapy for Corneal Scarring

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 20, 2010 – The Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh recently received a $244,000 donation from the Western Pennsylvania Medical Eye Bank Foundation. The donation, to be matched dollar for dollar by UPMC, will be used to further the Pitt School of Medicine’s research on stem cell therapy for corneal scarring.

“Our preclinical studies support the idea that stem cell therapy can provide sight to a large number of individuals with corneal blindness,” said James L. Funderburgh, Ph.D., senior investigator and professor in the Department of Ophthalmology. “The timing of this generous donation provides an extraordinary opportunity for us to advance this research from the lab to the clinic.”

Through experiments conducted in mice, Dr. Funderburgh and his team have found that stem cells collected from the stromal layer of human corneas restore transparency without triggering a rejection response when injected into eyes that are scarred and hazy. Their study was published in the April 2009 edition of the journal Stem Cell.

With the new funding, the Pitt research team will develop standard procedures for preparing the stem cells so that they can be used in human studies, after first verifying their safety in animal models.

“We have followed Dr. Funderburgh’s work for some time now and are excited to contribute to its future growth,” said John G. Wisnoski, president of the Western Pennsylvania Medical Eye Bank Foundation. “We feel that this research complements our long-term interest in corneal transplant and repair, which we have strongly supported since 1937.”

In addition to Mr. Wisnoski, current board members of the Western Pennsylvania Medical Eye Bank Foundation are Robert G. Gumbert, Ellen M. Flatley, Dick Katzin, M.D., and S. Venkatesh, M.D.

The Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh is a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary research and clinical program dedicated to ocular regenerative medicine and to improving quality of life for the vision-impaired. A joint program of the UPMC Eye Center and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Fox Center’s main focus is discovery and development of new cures for blindness and visual impairment, especially for those with problems affecting the retina, optic nerve, cornea and lens. Through basic and clinical research, it will provide vision restoration through the augmentation of existing visual pathways or by providing vision through non-visual means.

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