With the growing number of people with eye problems it is harder and harder to find answers to problems raised; some cases are so bad that there is no other sollution and a cornea transplant is needed. Every year, in Germany alone, around 7000 people wait for a new cornea to save their eyesight. The bad thing is that there are not nearly that many around.
In an EU project, researchers have developed an artificial cornea which is to be clinically tested in early 2008. A man who has a damaged or worse cornea because of a congenital malformation, hereditary disease or corrosion is at risk of going blind, and often the only solution is to implant a donor cornea. Many attempts have therefore been made at producing artificial corneas, so far with little success. This is due to the conflicting requirements imposed; it has to grow firmly but the cells have to deposit themselves at the center of the cornea, as this impairs the patient’s vision.
The research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research (IAP) in Potsdam and the Department of Ophthalmology at the University Hospital of Regensburg have worked with other colleagues in the EU-funded CORNEA project and they have found a solution.
“Our artificial corneas are based on a commercially available polymer which absorbs no water and allows no cells to grow on it,” says IAP project manager Dr. Joachim Storsberg. “Once our partner Dr. Schmidt Intraokularlinsen GmbH has suitably shaped the polymers, we selectively coat the implants: We lay masks on them and apply a special protein to the edge of the cornea, which the cells of the natural cornea can latch onto. In this way, the cornea implant can firmly connect with the natural part of the cornea, while the center remains free of cells and therefore clear.”
They have tested the corneas in the laboratory and found that their cells graft very well at the edge. This means that the optical center of the implant manages to stay clear. The first implants have already been tested in rabbits’ eyes and the results are very good so humans are probably going to benefit from this.