A recent study from researchers in Canada and Sweden has shown that biosynthetic corneas can help regenerate and repair damaged eye tissue and improve vision in humans.
This study is important because it’s the first to show that an artificially fabricated cornea can integrate with the human eye and stimulate regeneration,” said senior author Dr. May Griffith of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the University of Ottawa and Linköping University. “With further research, this approach could help restore sight to millions of people who are waiting for a donated human cornea for transplantation.”
Eye surgeons currently use cadaver corneas for transplants, but that requires the use of anti-rejection drugs and presents a risk of infection. Plastic corneas can also be used, but they present other problems and are generally tried only when tissue transplants have failed.
To fabricate the biosynthetic cornea, human genes were inserted into yeast cells to generate recombinant human collagen. The collagen was then chemically cross-linked and molded into a scaffold in the shapes and sizes of normal human corneas. “The implant acts like a scaffold to attract cell and nerve ingrowth, the end result is a cornea that looks and functions like a healthy cornea”, said Griffith.
The clinical trial consisted of 10 patients who underwent surgery on one eye to remove damaged corneal tissue and replace it with a biosynthetic cornea. Over two years of follow-up, the researchers observed that cells and nerves from the patients’ own corneas had actually grown into the implant, resulting in a “regenerated” cornea that resembled normal, healthy tissue! Patients didn’t experience any rejection reaction or require long-term immune suppression, which are serious side effects associated with the use of human donor tissue. The biosynthetic corneas also became sensitive to touch and began producing normal tears to keep the eye oxygenated. Also vision improved in six out of the ten patients, and after contact lens fitting, vision was comparable to conventional corneal transplantation with human donor tissue.
“This is a huge breakthrough,” said Dr. Francis W. Price Jr., founder and president of the board of the Cornea Research Foundation, who was not involved in the research. “It still has to go through additional studies … but it shows a lot of promise.”
I’m always so happy to hear about new advances in regenerative medicine, because it’s one of the most promising areas in terms of prolonging life and improving health.
See this incredible video of an actual biosynthetic cornea being inserted to replace damaged corneal tissue. “Warning graphic footage of eye surgery”