After years of experiments, a Canadian researcher, Dr. May Griffith, from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, has developed a synthetic cornea that has been successfully transplanted into the eyes of 10 Swedish patients. Griffith says the work was done in Sweden because she could not raise enough money in Canada nor could she find a Canadian surgeon willing to perform the operations.
Of the 10 patients, who each had one eye operated on, sight improved significantly for six of them, with one achieving 20-20 vision.
“To me it looks really good and if it does deliver what they (feel) it will, I think it will be fantastic,” says Keith Gordon, vice president of research at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
Diseases of the cornea can cloud or erode the eye membrane and distort the way light is focused on the retina. Diseases of the cornea are normally treated by transplanting healthy corneas from human donors.
However, there are some major problems with using human transplantation:
- donated corneas are in short supply,
- there is a danger of transmitting disease along with the cornea, and
- it is likely that the human cornea will be rejected, and
- that necessitates the use of mega doses of steroids to counter the potential rejection.
Griffith worked to develop synthetic corneas because they would avoid all of the problems associated with the transplantation of human corneas. She inserted bits of DNA that would produce collagen into yeast genomes which then created a transparent resin.
“Then we simply put this stuff into a contact lens mold and that gives us the shape and size of a normal human cornea,” Griffith says. “That was used by a surgeon for transplantation, very much as they would use a normal (donated) cornea.”
The synthetic corneas provide the hope of sight for millions with eye diseases in poorer nations, where there are no organized systems for human cornea donations.