Work carried out by a Swedish university recently made it possible to completely restore sight to three blind patients. The researchers who conducted this trial developed bioartificial corneas made from collagen from pig cells.
In 2019, we were talking about the very first 4D printed cornea. This technology allows the object to change its shape itself in response to a stimulus, including light, which was precisely the desired effect. In 2016, we also unveiled a new technique for reconstructing the cornea from stem cells taken from the eyes of patients. The cells in question are cultured using a hydrogel film, then grafted onto the eye.
In a publication in the journal Nature Biotechnology of August 11, 2022, a team from Linköping University (Sweden) described the results of a pilot study concerning bioartificial corneas. However, the vision of three quarters of the patients who participated in the study was restored. These same patients had advanced keratoconus. It is a disease of the cornea that causes deterioration of vision, the intensity of which depends on the degree of deformation of the cornea.
Very encouraging results
Ophthalmologists and bioengineers have designed an implant that has almost the same characteristics as a real cornea. They used pig skin cells from which collagen molecules were extracted. After purification of the molecules, the objective was to stabilize them in a material strong enough to support implantation. In addition, the researchers made sure that their invention could be easily accessible anywhere in the world. Since collagen is like gelatin a by-product of the food industry, the manufacturing costs of the bioartificial cornea are therefore modest. The artificial graft can also be stored for two years before implantation in the patient, compared to only two weeks for a human graft.
The results are very encouraging since out of the twenty patients in the study, 14 benefited from partial or total restoration of their sight, including three who now have 20/20 sight. It should be remembered that of the millions of people who are blind due to corneal damage, only one patient in 70 benefits from a transplant. The prospects are therefore very interesting.
Let us mention the fact that the innovation is also distinguished by the surgical technique that the researchers used. Indeed, there is no question of removing the diseased cornea to replace it with the implant. This same implant slips directly into the cornea using a small incision. This method is therefore less invasive. Finally, the scientists planned an eight-week treatment with immunosuppressive eye drops to prevent rejection of the implant. Thus, no patient was affected by a rejection.