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Good news for people suffering from corneal blindness and low vision! A newly developed bioengineered cornea helped blind people see. Interestingly, the implant is made using collagen protein from pig skin. The developers are hopeful that this bioengineered implant could be an alternative option to the transplantation of donated human corneas. For the unversed, cornea is the outermost transparent layer of the eye.
The bioengineered implant restored sight to 20 people with diseased corneas in a pilot study, led by researchers from Link ping University (LiU) in Sweden. The study results were published in Nature Biotechnology. LinkoCare Life Sciences AB is the company manufacturing the bioengineered corneas.
Professor Neil Lagali from LiU stated that the implant, which looks like the human cornea, can be produced in large numbers and stored for up to two years before use. Donated human corneas, on the other hand, must be used within two weeks. The expert believes that bioengineered implants may help solve the problem of shortage of donated human corneas and help more people with vision problems.
To create the implant, the researchers used collagen molecules (which is a primary component of the cornea) derived from pig skin.
Additionally, the research team has come up with a new, minimally invasive method for treating keratoconus, a condition in which the normal round-shaped cornea becomes thin and gradually bulges outward like a cone, which can lead to blurred vision and blindness.
In case of advanced stage of keratoconus, the patient's cornea is surgically removed and then a donated cornea is sewn into place using surgical sutures. However, the new method does away the need to remove the patient's own tissue and stitches. The new surgical method only requires making a small incision through which the implant is inserted into the existing cornea, said Lagali.
Globally, about 12.7 million people are estimated to be blind due to damaged or diseased corneas. For them, a cornea transplant (using donated corneal tissue from a human donor) is the only way of regaining vision. But there's scarcity of donated human corneas, especially in low and middle-income countries where most people who need cornea transplants live and access to treatments is limited. Sadly, only one in 70 patients with corneal blindness receives a cornea transplant.
Mehrdad Rafat, CEO of LinkoCare Life Sciences AB, ensured that the implants they have developed would be "affordable by all and not just by the wealthy" and will be widely available in all parts of the world.
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