Right now, you’re seeing this blog post thanks to your cornea. In concert with your eye’s lens, the cornea refracts light and allows you to distinguish the letters on this page from the background. But your cornea is vulnerable to disease — clouding of the cornea is the most common cause of blindness. And although treating these diseases, such as keratonocus (also called central corneal scarring) is possible through surgery, it has typically required donated human corneas for transplantation. Findings published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, however, may offer a biosynthetic solution to the tissue donation bottleneck.
Led by Dr. May Griffith (pictured) of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the University of Ottawa and Linköping University and supported in part by the Stem Cell Network, the study publishes the results of a early phase clinical trial wherein biosynthetic cornea were implanted in 10 Swedish patients with advanced keratonocus. Vision improved in six of the 10 patients, and the results were comparable to conventional transplantation with donated human corneas.
The implanted biosynthetic corneas acted like a scaffold, wherein the implantation triggered the patients’ own remaining corneal tissue to grow into the implant, leading to a “regenerated” cornea that appeared normal and healthy. Further, the researchers found that the biosynthetic cornea reacted like normal ones, reacting to touch and producing tears to keep the eye oxygenated.
The findings offer hope to those waiting for corneal transplants, and perhaps even for the visually impaired with other afflictions, according to Dr. Per Fagerholm, an eye surgeon at Linköping University in Sweden, one of the institutions collaborating on the study.
“We are very encouraged by these results and by the great potential of biosynthetic corneas,” said Dr. Fagerholm. “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.”
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