Bioengineered Cornea Implants

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    In News

    • Recently, researchers in Sweden have been able to create a successful alternative bioengineered cornea implant made of collagen derived from pig skin

    About the recent research

    • Fact: An estimated 12.7 million people around the world are blind due to their corneas. 
    • Medical-grade collagen: As a substitute for human corneas, the researchers utilised medical-grade collagen derived from pig skin, a by-product of the food industry that is already used in medical devices for glaucoma surgery. 
      • The cornea consists mainly of the protein collagen. 
    • Significant benefits: This is not only cheaper and easier to access than donated corneas, but requires a less invasive procedure and can be stored for a significantly longer period up to two years. 
      • While donated corneas must be used within two weeks, the bioengineered corneas can be stored for up to two years before use. 
    • Method:
      • The researchers developed a minimally invasive method without the use of stitches, where a small incision is made in the patient’s eye, and the implant is inserted over the existing cornea. 
      • This can be done with high-precision lasers or by using readily available surgical instruments. 

    Challenges

    • Leading causes of blindness: Damage to the cornea, the clear outermost layer of the eye is one of the leading causes of blindness across the world, leaving approximately 12.7 million people blind, and particularly affecting those in poorer countries where there is a scarcity of donated human corneas. 
    • Shortage of corneas: Researchers claim that there is a severe shortage of corneas, with only one available for 70 patients.
    • Logistical and storage difficulties: along with expensive surgical equipment, further burden those living in low and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

    Way Forward

    • Keratoconus: The implant was used to successfully restore the vision of 20 people in India and Iran, most of whom were blind due to keratoconus, a disease that leads to thinning of the cornea. 
    • Economically advantageous: The pig skin used is a byproduct of the food industry, making it easy to access and economically advantageous.
    • Lifetime treatment: The researchers found that 2 years after the operation, none of the patients were blind anymore.
    • Mass production: The results show that it is possible to develop a biomaterial that meets all the criteria for being used as human implants, which can be mass-produced and stored up to two years and thereby reach even more people with vision problems. 

    Source: IE

     

    Cornea 

    • The transparent avascular tissue part of the eye that covers the iris and the pupil and allows light to enter the inside is called Cornea.
    • It helps the eye in 2 ways: 
      • It helps to shield the rest of the eye from germs, dust, and other harmful matter. The cornea shares this protective task with the eyelids, the eye socket, tears, and the sclera, or white part of the eye.
      • It acts as the eye’s outermost lens. It functions like a window that controls and focuses the entry of light into the eye. The cornea contributes between 65-75 percent of the eye’s total focusing power.
    • What happens if the cornea is damaged?
      • The curvature of this outer layer helps determine how well your eye can focus on objects close up and far away. 
      • If the cornea becomes damaged through disease, infection or injury, the resulting scars or discoloration can interfere with vision by blocking or distorting light as it enters the eye.

    Image Courtesy: Cornea