researchers at Linköping University, Sweden, have create a bioengineered human cornea. For those who are lost, the cornea is the transparent tissue responsible for covering the iris, the pupil and the anterior chamber of the eye. It refracts light together with the lens and the aforementioned anterior part, it is transplantable and plays a very important role in protecting the eye itself.
The cornea developed by Linköping University has been created from collagen sourced from pig skin, a purified product made to resemble the proteins found in the real human cornea (the ones we have in our eyes since birth). This development has potential as an alternative to current transplants, whose donors are deceased people and can only last five to seven days without specialized cold storage.
The team of researchers has conducted a small trial involving 20 patients from Iran and India affected by advanced keratoconus, of whom 14 were legally blind and the rest had vision problems. The implant was able to restore or at least improve vision in all patients, who also did not show complications no intraoperative or postoperative adverse events after 24 months of clinical follow-up. The 14 blind subjects managed to recover tolerance to the use of contact lenses and at general levels it has been estimated that the results have been “as good, if not better, than traditional transplant techniques”.
The researchers hope that their development will contribute to the mass production of quality corneas, since currently many donated corneas are not of good quality because they come from elderly people. There are an estimated 12.7 million people blind due to corneal problems, but for transplants there is only one available for every 70 needed.
The importance of the cornea and the difficulties posed by the situation surrounding transplants have led to several lines of research to create them through bioengineering. Four years ago we published that scientists from the University of Newcastle announced the creation of the first 3D printed human cornea.
We will see if all these efforts translate in the future into making quality corneas available on a massive scale for all those people who need a transplant, because the cornea is not the most vital part of the human body, but it is essential to have a good quality of life.