Can This Bioengineered Cornea Restore Sight In the Blind?

Can This Bioengineered Cornea Restore Sight In the Blind?

Researchers have now come up with an implant made of collagen protein from pig’s skin, which resembles the human cornea. In the pilot study led by researchers at Linköping University (LiU) and LinkoCare Life Sciences AB, the implant restored vision to 20 people with diseased corneas, most of whom were blind prior to receiving the implant.

BIOENGINEERED CORNEA; HOPE

With the progress in the study, researchers said that the bioengineered implant gave hope to those suffering from corneal blindness and low vision. This forms an alternative to the transplantation of donated human corneas, which are scarce in countries where the need for them is greatest.

One of the researchers professor Neil Lagali at the Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at LiU said that the results gave hope of developing a biomaterial that meets all the criteria for being used as human implants. The professor also hoped that the biengineered implant  could be mass-produced and stored up to two years. This could help in getting over problem of shortage of donated corneal tissue and access to other treatments for eye diseases, the researcher said.

An estimated 12.7 million people around the world are blind due to their corneas.Their only way of regaining vision is to receive a transplanted cornea from a human donor. But just one in 70 patients receives a cornea transplant. Furthermore, most of those who need cornea transplants live in low and middle-income countries in which access to treatments is very limited.

BIOENGINEERED CORNEA; SAFETY

Researcher and entrepreneur behind the design  Mehrdad Rafat said that safety and effectiveness of the bioengineered implants have been the core of their work. He is an adjunct associate professor (senior lecturer) at LiU’s Department of Biomedical Engineeringand founder and CEO of the company LinkoCare Life Sciences AB, which manufactures the bioengineered corneas used in the study.

“We’ve made significant efforts to ensure that our invention will be widely available and affordable by all and not just by the wealthy. That’s why this technology can be used in all parts of the world”, he says.

BIOENGINEERED CORNEA; FORMATION

To create an alternative to human cornea, the researchers used collagen molecules derived from pig skin.  The pig skin used is a byproduct of the food industry, making it easy to access and economically advantageous. In the process of constructing the implant, the researchers stabilised the loose collagen molecules forming a robust and transparent material that could withstand handling and implantation in the eye. While donated corneas must be used within two weeks, the bioengineered corneas can be stored for up to two years before use. 

The surgical method and the implants were used by surgeons in Iran and India, two countries where many people suffer from corneal blindness and low vision, but where there is a significant lack of donated corneas and treatment options. Twenty people who were either blind or on the verge of losing sight due to advanced keratoconus participated in the pilot clinical study and received the biomaterial implant. The patients were followed for two years, and no complications were noted during that time. 

Cornea transplant or keratoplasty is a surgical procedure to replace part of cornea with corneal tissue from a donor. The transplant can restore vision and improve appearance of a damaged or diseased cornea.         Most of the transplant are successful but may come with a small risk of complications, such as rejection of the donor cornea.

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