A medical breakthrough that can change lives is the one made by a team, from Linköping University in Sweden, who created a bioengineered cornea that has restored vision to people with problems, including those who were blind before receiving the implant.
These corneas, described in Nature Biotechnologycould help restore sight to people in countries where human cornea transplants are scarce, and for a lower price, since they are made from pig skin collagen proteins.
This would also allow the cornea to be preserved for up to two years, versus two weeks that the human cornea lasts.
The purified collagen molecules were processed to ensure that no animal tissues or biological components remained. The team, from Linköping University, stabilized the loose molecules on a hydrogel scaffold designed to mimic the human cornea, which was robust enough to be implanted in an eye.
Surgeons in Iran and India conducted a pilot trial of 20 people who were blind or close to vision loss from advanced keratoconus. This disease thins the cornea, the outermost transparent layer of the eye, and prevents the eye from focusing properly. The implant restored the thickness and curvature of the cornea. All 14 participants who had been blind before the operation had their vision restored, and three of them achieved perfect 20/20 vision.
The cornea helps focus light rays on the retina at the back of the eye and protects the eye from dirt and germs. When damaged by infection or injury, it can prevent light from reaching the retina, making it difficult to see.
Because pig skin is a byproduct of the food industry, using this bioengineered implant should cost a fraction as much as transplanting a human donor cornea, said Neil Lagali, a professor in the Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at Linköping University, one of the researchers behind the study.
“It will be affordable, even for people in low-income countries,” he said. “There is a much greater cost savings compared to the way traditional cornea transplant is done today.”