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Synthetic corneas made from an unlikely source restore sight to 20 people

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A scientific team has developed a pig skin collagen protein implant that resembles the human cornea and, in a pilot study, the technique was able to restore vision to twenty people with diseased corneas, most of whom were blind before receiving the implant.

The work, jointly led by researchers from Linköping University (LiU) and the company LinkoCare Life Sciences AB, both in Sweden, is published in Nature Biotechnology. According to its authors, these are “promising results that bring hope to those who suffer from corneal blindness and low vision.”

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The goal, they say, is to provide a bioengineered implant as an alternative to transplanting donated human corneas, which are in short supply in countries where they are most needed.

“The results show that it is possible to develop a biomaterial that meets all the criteria to be used as a human implant, that can be mass-produced and stored for up to two years and thus reach more people with vision problems,” Neil Lagali summarizes in a statement. , of the LiU.

Vision problems due to corneas

An estimated 12.7 million people worldwide are blind because their corneas, the outermost clear layer of the eye, are damaged or diseased, so their only way to regain their sight is to receive a transplant cornea from a human donor.

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But only one in 70 patients receives this transplant. Furthermore, most of those who need it live in low- and middle-income countries where access to treatment is very limited.

“We have made significant efforts to ensure that our invention is widely available and affordable for everyone and not just the wealthy,” says Mehrdad Rafat, a professor at LiU and founder and CEO of the company that makes the bioengineered corneas used in the study. study.

collagen protein

The cornea is mainly made up of the protein collagen. To create an alternative to the human cornea, the researchers used collagen molecules derived from pig skin, highly purified and produced under strict conditions for use in humans.

The pig skin used is a by-product of the food industry, making it easily accessible and economically advantageous, according to the researchers.

In the process of constructing the implant, the team stabilized loose collagen molecules into a robust, transparent material that could withstand manipulation and implantation in the eye.

While donated corneas must be used within two weeks, bioengineered corneas can be stored for up to two years before use.

Minimally invasive surgical method

The researchers also developed a new minimally invasive surgical method, in which a small incision is made through which the implant is inserted into the cornea and no stitches are needed.

The surgical method and implants were used by surgeons in Iran and India, where many people suffer from corneal blindness and low vision, but where there is a significant lack of donated corneas and treatment options.

Twenty people who are blind or on the verge of losing their sight due to advanced keratoconus – a disease in which the cornea becomes so thin that it can cause blindness – participated in the pilot clinical study and received the biomaterial implant.

The operations were uncomplicated, the tissue healed rapidly, and an 8-week course of immunosuppressive eye drops was sufficient to prevent rejection.

The patients were followed for two years and no complications were observed during that time.

Before the implant can be used in healthcare, a larger clinical study is required, followed by approval by regulatory authorities. (YO)

Source: Eluniverso

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