Ottawa, Canada – Patients whose vision is impaired by a damaged cornea may soon have an alternative to a donor transplant to restore their vision. May Griffith of Linköping University in Sweden and Ottawa Hospital Research Institute has been working with colleagues to develop techniques for fabricating tissue replacements that can be used in place of natural donor tissue. Their most recent achievement is the successful testing of an artificial, biosynthetic cornea over the course of two years. Results with their synthetic cornea have proven to be as good or better than donor transplantation.
While more testing needs to be done on this artificial cornea and donor cornea transplantation is still the preferred treatment of corneal blindness, donor corneas are always scarce. Plastic corneas have been developed and used for years, but problematic side effects like infection and glaucoma have made them purely a last resort option.
This new corneal implant is special because it is made almost entirely from natural collagen, grown in vitro by corporate partner Fibrogen from yeast cells. This collagen was then molded into the shape of a cornea, mimicking the cornea’s stroma layer, which is mostly collagen.
All ten patients on whom the biosynthetic implants were tested had their vision restored to a level similar to corneal transplant patients, except that they needed contact lenses to smooth over bumps created by the implants. The team is currently testing alternatives to the sutures that cause those bumps, such as tissue adhesives. Results were also excellent in cell growth, with all ten patients seeing the return of the infection-fighting epithelial cell layer.