New Artificial Cornea May Be Viable Alternative to Corneal Transplants

Washington – Scientists have developed a new type of artificial cornea by inserting a tiny amount of collagen into the eye in order to spur natural corneal cell regrowth. Initial reports indicate that the procedure has successfully restored vision in many of the trial patients.

The first wave of the study was conducted in Sweden. The sample size was very small – only 10 people. Therefore, additional studies evaluating a larger sample size will be required to conclusively determine the effectiveness of the procedure. If successful, this new artificial cornea may become a viable alternative to corneal transplants. In many parts of the world, there is a shortage of donated corneas, necessitating an alternative to meet this demand.

The cornea is a film-like covering of the eye’s surface that is responsible for focusing light on the retina. It is a fragile structure that is easily damaged by injury or infection. Approximately 42,000 people undergo corneal transplants in the United States each year. However, in many other countries, the demand for donor corneas far outweighs the supply.

Researchers are also working on several other alternative treatments such as plastic-like artificial corneas and stem cell treatments which may improve corneal growth. The current treatment being evaluated is considered a bioartificial cornea since it uses the same natural substances found in your cornea (collagen) to promote healing.

To create the bioartificial cornea, researchers molded human collagen grown in yeast into the shape of a contact lens in order to mimic the shape of a natural cornea. The damaged corneal tissue was then removed from patients’ eyes and the bioartificial cornea was implanted in its place. Corneal cells began growing in the collagen, tear production normalized, and corneal nerves began to regrow. None of the patients rejected the artificial cornea; rejection is a common risk with corneal transplants.

After two years, six of the ten patients experienced significantly improved vision with glasses and two patients experienced similar vision to before the procedure.

It is important to note that this technology currently only addresses upper layer corneal problems which comprise approximately 10% of corneal transplant cases. Moving forward, researchers will attempt to develop the technology to address full-thickness corneal damage which impacts the endothelial cells in the lower layer of the cornea.