Artificial Corneas Could One Day Give Sight To Blind
October 4, 2012

Artificial Corneas Could One Day Give Sight To Blind

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Artificial corneas may be one way of fighting off blindness caused by corneal diseases in the future, according to new research.

Cornea transplant is the choice for a number of patients, but in many cases it is not possible because donor corneas are often hard to come by. Also, a sub-group of patients do not tolerate transplanted corneas.

According to the Fraunhofer, Europe´s largest application-oriented research organization, 7,000 patients in Germany are waiting to be treated for eyesight damages.

Dr. Joachim Storsberg and his team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer research IAP are attempting to develop an artificial cornea.

“We are in the process of developing two different types of artificial corneas. One of them can be used as an alternative to a donor cornea in cases where the patient would not tolerate a donor cornea, let alone the issue of donor material shortage,” IAP project manager Storsberg said in a press release.

Between 2005 and 2009, Storsberg collaborated with interdisciplinary teams and private companies to successfully develop an artificial cornea specifically for patients whose cornea had become clouded.

These patients are unable to accept a donor cornea due to their illness, or because they have already been through unsuccessful transplant attempts.

“A great many patients suffering from a range of conditions will be able to benefit from our new implant, which we´ve named ArtCornea,” Storsberg said in the release.

ArtCornea is based on polymer with high water-absorbent properties. The team added a new surface coating to it to ensure anchorage in host tissue and functionality of the optic. The haptic edge was chemically altered to encourage local cell growth, which have to graft to surrounding human tissue.

The team hopes to enlarge the optical surface area of the implant in order to improve light penetration beyond what had previously been possible.

“Once ArtCornea is in place, it is hardly visible, except perhaps for a few stitches," Storsberg said. "It´s also easy to implant and doesn´t provoke any immune response."

The researchers have also managed to make a chemically and biologically inert base material biologically compatible for the second artificial cornea. This allows the patient's cornea to bond together naturally with the edge of the implant, while the implant's thinner optics remain free of cells and clear.

The second artificial cornea is suitable as a preliminary treatment, for use if the cornea has been destroyed as a consequence of chronic inflammation.