Artificial corneas could restore sight

15Jan

Synthetic corneas made in the laboratory have dramatically improved the sight of 10 Swedish patients with significant vision loss, the BBC reports.

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The corneas are reportedly made from synthetic collagen and work by stimulating the regeneration of cells and nerves in the eye.

The cornea is crucial to our ability to see. It is a transparent layer, which covers the pupil, the iris and the front of the eye. It refracts light to focus images on the retina and is made entirely of collagen.

Damage to the cornea is the second biggest cause of blindness worldwide, affecting close to 10 million people, the BBC reported.

The only treatment currently available for corneal blindness, involves the transplantation of donated human corneas. Howevever, there is a worldwide shortage in donors and many patients find that their eyes reject the foreign tissue.

The pioneer implants are reportedly made from a synthetic version of human collagen designed to mimic the cornea.

Fibrogen, the company that made the implants used human DNA sequences and yeast to ‘grow’ the custom corneas, the BBC reported.

Scientists reportedly removed the diseased tissue from the corneas of the 10 patients and replaced it with the implants.

The patients were reportedly monitored over a two year period after the surgery to see how well the implants were incorporated into the eye.

In six of the patients, vision reportedly improved from about 20/400 to 20/100 which effectively means they can now see four times further away than before the surgery.

Sight was restored in all 10 patients who received the artificial implants. However, a number of the patients needed contact lenses, the BBC reported.

Dr May Griffith, professor of regenerative medicine at Linkopings University in Sweden was one of the study authors. She told BBC News she was surprised by its success.

“Our goal was actually just to test the safety of these corneas in humans so the improvement in vision was a real bonus for us.”

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