From the UIC Science Blog

Sharon Parmet
March 2014

Dr. Vinay Aakalu, assistant professor of ophthalmology and director of the Lacrimal Cell Biology Laboratory at UIC, is investigating the use of stem cells to treat dry eye with a five-year, $1,180,000 grant from the National Eye Institute (1K08EY024339-01: Study of Accessory Lacrimal Gland and Precursor Cell Biology).

Vinay Aakalu, MD, MPHAakalu is also an oculoplastic surgeon and treats conditions related to the orbit, eyelids and structures related to the production of tears which make up the lacrimal system.  He is particularly interested in helping patients with severe ocular surface diseases and dry eye disease.

Surgical treatment for these issues can involve reconstructing the eyelids and eye surface, taking a salivary gland from the mouth and implanting it near the eye where it can provide needed moisture, or taking tissue from behind the lower lip and attaching it to the inner surface of the eyelid to help the lid move over the cornea more smoothly.

Dry eye can have many causes, including autoimmune disorders that attack the tear-producing glands, poor tear quality or low production, older age, and environmental factors. Severe dry eye can cause tears in the cornea, infections and pain and may even lead to blindness.

Aakalu is looking at using stem cells to help replace lost or damaged tissue that makes up the tear-producing lacrymal glands. In many cases of severe dry eye, these glands produce an insufficient amount of tears to keep the eye moisturized.

Removing, growing and reimplanting adult stem cells from poorly functioning lachrymal glands could theoretically help the glands build new tissue and produce more tears to alleviate severe dry eye. But, there are very few stem cells in lacrymal glands to begin with, and they are difficult to identify and isolate for therapeutic infusion.

Aakalu is working on developing techniques to isolate adult lacrymal stem cells from donor tear glands for both therapeutic purposes and well as for research purposes. Having a source for lachrymal stem cells would help researchers develop techniques for reimplantation.

Link to posting on UIC Science