S+S, Spring 2024, Back cover

Thanks to support from Eye & Ear Foundation donors, under the leadership of the late Dr. Jim Funderburgh, scientists in the Department of Ophthalmology learned to use corneal stromal stem cells (CSSCs) to restore corneal transparency. While this treatment is still in the process of FDA approval in the United States, clinical trials in India using this method have already restored sight to dozens of individuals.  This procedure could potentially provide a rapid non-surgical regenerative therapy for corneal scarring and replace the need for cornea transplants in many instances in the future.

Following Dr. Funderburgh’s passing in 2019, Dr. Gary Yam was recruited to the University of Pittsburgh to carry on this work. The project was renamed the Funderburgh Corneal Regeneration Project in honor of Dr. Funderburgh. Dr. Yam and his team are expanding the work by looking at gene expression measurements, expanding the use of stem cells to other conditions such as corneal haze, and working with ECM Therapeutics, a company working on extra-cellular matrix work. Dr. Yam and his team are also looking at RNA sequencing data from the three sets of samples (CSSC, keratocytes and fibroblasts) to help treat corneal scarring from injury.

Additionally, and importantly, the Department is looking at biomanufacturing processes to manufacture the stem cells right here at the University so that they have the tools necessary to begin human clinical trials when the time comes.