A new look for corneal transplants
Lab-made templates, which mimic the film-like corneal tissue covering the outer eye, could help to reduce blindness worldwide, according to a recent study published in Science Translational Medicine.
The cornea, the outermost layer of the eye, plays a major part in focusing vision and in protecting the eye from the environment, but can be damaged by disease or trauma - a leading cause of blindness across the globe. The most widely accepted treatment is replacement with human donor corneas, but these are in short supply.
Per Fagerholm, of Linköping University, Sweden, and colleagues from Canada and the USA transplanted biosynthetic corneal templates into ten patients, and monitored them closely for two years. Promisingly, in nine out of ten patients they became completely integrated into the eye, with the patients' nerves and cells regenerating and populating the biosynthetic corneas. With the addition of rigid corrective contact lenses, improvements in sight were seen in all patients.
The surgery was not without complications - some patients experienced a "haze" (related to the sutures used to keep the grafts in place). Compared to donor transplants however, these patients did not need to use long-term steroids to prevent their immune systems from reacting to "foreign" donor tissue. In addition, the use of biosynthetic corneas eliminated the risk of acquiring infections that can be transferred from donor transplants.
Though this technology still needs improvement, it could provide a much needed solution to the worldwide shortage of donor corneas.
Listen to an interview with May Griffith, University of Linköping, Sweden