Restoring Sight with Biosynthetic Corneas
Cornea transplants have been restoring sight to those with corneal problems and diseases since the first cornea transplant in 1905. They are very effective and often are able to completely restore sight to those that otherwise would not be able to see. Cornea transplants are able to restore sight in as many as 90% of situations. Unfortunately it can be difficult to find donor corneas and the demand often greatly outweighs the available supply. Artificial corneas may be able to help solve this problem and to restore sight to those that otherwise would be unable to see.
People all around the world are on long waiting lists for donor corneas. It is estimated that in Germany alone approximately 7,000 people are in need of a cornea transplant. As many as 50,000 corneas are donated each year worldwide, but this still is not enough to satisfy the demand.
What is the cornea?
The cornea is the outer layer of the eye. It is clear and dome shaped. Your cornea is found in the front of the eye covering your pupil and iris. It contains no blood vessels since it must be completely clear in order to function properly.
The cornea plays a critical role in your vision. It protects the eye from dust and germs. It also helps the eye to focus by acting like a window that controls the light that enters into the eye. The cornea is very delicate and can be injured. Scratches are the most common form of corneal injury and can cause short term pain and vision loss. Deeper scratches can result in corneal scarring and can greatly impact vision. In cases of severe scarring a cornea transplant may be required. Other diseases and conditions may also destroy the cornea and thus cause the need for an eventual cornea transplant.
While donor corneas are in short supply new developments in the manufacture of artificial corneas are showing promise in being able to help restore vision to the many people awaiting a cornea transplant. These artificial corneas may also be able to be used in patients with special medical conditions where a donor transplant would not be possible.
Artificial corneas have many complex requirements in order to be effective and useable. For example they must be able to attach to the eye tissue without letting eye cells into the center of the cornea since this could impair vision. They must also be able to respond to natural tears so that the eye can moisten itself. One type of artificial cornea that is showing great promise is made from a hydrophobic polymer. This special polymer is then treated with various growth factors which allow it to implant into the eye.
Can biosynthetic corneas work?
Biosynthetic corneas are showing promise for being an effective choice in restoring sight. They have been successfully implanted in many patients and are showing great results. In a Swedish study 10 patients with advanced corneal scarring underwent surgery on one eye which removed the damaged tissue and implanted a biosynthetic cornea. These patients were then studied over the course of 2 years. The patientís nerves and eye cells grew into this artificial cornea and in time this implant resembled regular, human corneal tissue. Since the cornea did not come from a donor the patients did not have problems with rejection or need to take anti-rejection medications as is common with patients receiving a donor cornea. Over time the implanted biosynthetic corneas became sensitive to the touch and were even able to produce natural tears. Of the 10 patients studied 6 showed vision improvement that was comparable with a cornea transplant after they were fitted with contact lenses.
While great promise is being shown in the world of biosynthetic corneas it is important to note that donor corneas still are more successful than biosynthetic corneas. Also these artificial corneas are often only available to patients that would otherwise be unable to receive a donor cornea due to medical conditions or incompatibilities.
Helping others receive the gift of sight
While this technology is further developed donor corneas are still in high demand. You can help others to receive the gift of sight by becoming an eye donor. Even if you are already a registered organ donor let your family know that you want to donate your eyes. Anyone can become an eye donor even if they are elderly or have poor vision or cataracts. Cornea transplants can bring vision to many and being willing to donate your eyes will allow you to one day bring the gift of sight to someone that would otherwise be unable to see.
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