Scientist have grown artificial corneal in the lab and successfully implanted them into the eyes of patients suffering from damaged cornea.
The operation could offer a solution to millions of partially sighted people who must wait, or simply cannot get live-tissue replacement cornea from a human donor.
The new biosynthetic corneal are made from collagen and are modeled to be the same size and shape as human cornea. To perform the operation, surgeons remove the damaged or scarred tissue from the front of the eye and then stitch the implants in place with nylon sutures.
The biosynthetic properties of the implant allow the patients’ nerve cells to grow into its matrix.
May Griffiths, of Linköping University, in Sweden, who lead the team that developed the collagen implant said, “It looks like a contact lens,”
In the new trails, Griffiths team implanted the biosynthetic corneal in 10 patients with corneal damage. The recipients were then put on immunosuppressant drugs for six weeks in order to prevent rejection. After two years, the cornea in all the recipients had become attached by the patient’s own cells, nerves had also grown across the cornea.
The first clinical trials of the operation have shown it to be just as successful as the live tissue alternative; researchers also think the artificial version may actually be better because they avoid the chance of rejection.
“We were very excited by the results…
“This study is the first to show an artificially fabricated cornea can integrate with the human eye and stimulate regeneration…
“With further research, this approach could help restore sight to millions of people who are waiting for a
donated human cornea for transplantation…
“There is a shortage of donors and this could solve that problem. It can also be done at a fraction of the cost.”
The cornea is like the human lens that protects the surface of the eye. It plays a large part in our vision and when it gets damaged it causes out vision to become cloudy, much like the effect produced by a badly worn camera lens.
Patients suffering from clouding of the cornea, of which there is an estimated 10 million worldwide, currently have two options to correct their sight; join a long waiting list for an implant form a human donor; or implant and unsightly pin-hole-esque prosthesis. The operation brings new hope to those people.
Unfortunately, only six of the patients’ had their sight totally restored, the others still suffer from a ‘visual haze.’ Griffith thinks is may be due to scarring from the sutures.
Nevertheless the results are certainly a medical breakthrough. Christopher Ta, professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University in California, praised Griffiths work:
“I think Griffith’s work has the potential to revolutionize the field of cornea transplantation,”
“It is possible [we will] see widespread use of this type of engineered cornea in the next five years.”
Dr Per Fagerholm, also part of the team at Linköping University, said:
“We are very encouraged by these results and by the great potential of biosynthetic corneas…
“Further biomaterial enhancements and modifications to the surgical technique are ongoing, and new studies are being planned that will extend the use of the biosynthetic cornea to a wider range of sight-threatening conditions requiring transplantation.”
Similar research was carried out by Dr. Joachim Storsberg of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm, who in 2007 developed a different artificial cornea using a hybrid polymer already used in ophthalmology or intraocular lenses.
Dr. Storsberg is being awarded the 2010 Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize.