Scientists have bioengineered corneal tissue from pigs to give the gift of sight to humans. It means people can soon expect corneal donors in form of their porcine friends.
Researchers from Linköping University in Sweden, whose study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology on Aug. 11, came up with a marvelous way to bypass hurdles often associated with corneal transplants.
This study will have seminal effects. For starters, the use of this bioengineered corneal tissue will shorten the line for those who need corneal transplants, which more often than not is the only way to restore their vision. One will no longer need to depend solely on human donors.
Estimates peg that around 12.7 million people suffer vision loss due to corneal issues, and only one in 70 are able to receive a cornea transplant, Science Alert reported.
Cornea, for the uninitiated, is the transparent cover in the front part of the eye that protects the iris and pupil and is mostly made of different types of collagen.
In an attempt to mimic human cornea, the researchers purified collagen from pig skin to create a new cornea layer. Chemical and photochemical methods were used to bolster this usually soft material, making it sturdier. The result was a hydrogel called a bioengineered porcine construct, double crosslinked (BPCDX).
The cornea can gradually thin over time, causing it to bulge outward and mess up one’s vision in a condition called keratoconus. Interestingly, corneal implants made from pig skin successfully restored sight in 20 people afflicted with this condition during the clinical trial.
Among the participants, 14 were blind before the transplant. But two years after the trial, all 14 of those blind people saw their vision return, with three of them now having perfect 20/20 vision.
The bioengineered implant flattened the bulging cornea, compensated for the lost thickness and, in turn, restored the eye’s ability to focus.
Normal corneal transplants are costly, and donated corneas are always in short supply. This hinders most people in the world from accessing effective treatments. This may change soon with this innovation.
“We’ve made significant efforts to ensure that our invention will be widely available and affordable by all and not just by the wealthy. That’s why this technology can be used in all parts of the world,” Linköping University biomedical engineer Mehrdad Rafat, noted, as per ScienceAlert.
To fulfill this agenda, scientists developed a novel technique that omits the need for stitches which will help doctors perform the implant procedure with less specialized conditions and equipment.
“A less invasive method could be used in more hospitals, thereby helping more people. With our method, the surgeon doesn’t need to remove the patient’s own tissue. Instead, a small incision is made, through which the implant is inserted into the existing cornea,” Neil Lagali, Linköping University ophthalmology researcher, explained, according to the publication.
This minimally invasive surgery kept the corneal nerves and cell layers intact which allowed the wound to heal rapidly.
“No previous study has, to our knowledge, achieved full corneal transparency in vivo with sufficient corneal thickening and flattening, or with significant visual acuity gains as reported here,” the researchers wrote in their study.
Source: Medical Daily.