New hope for cornea transplants

There is new hope for people requiring a cornea transplant

People in need of a cornea transplant to restore their sight or relieve pain are being offered new hope by researchers in Trinity College Dublin who are developing bioengineered versions. It could help overcome the shortage of human corneas for transplants.

The research was discussed at the anniversary symposium at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute.

Dr Mark Ahearne and his team point out corneal blindness resulting from damage or disease is one of the most common causes of blindness worldwide. In many cases, a corneal transplant (or keratoplasty) is required to restore vision, but there is presently a global shortage of healthy donor tissue. The human cornea consists of layers of aligned collagen fibres that are stacked perpendicularly on top of each other. This unique structure is vital to allow light to penetrate through the cornea and is necessary for us to see clearly.

Dr Ahearne's team can electro-spin nanofibers similar in size to native cornea fibres and assemble them in such a way as to replicate the fibre arrangement found in a healthy cornea. He said: "We are investigating the effect of different physical and chemical environments on the behaviour of corneal cells. This information can then be incorporated into the design of the bioengineered corneas to improve their function.

"We are confident that this research will generate new therapies to treat patients suffering from corneal blindness."