Excellent Idea of the Day: Artificial Corneas

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Patients could regain some of their sight using these artificial corneas.
Fraunhofer Institute

Purely artificial corneas could restore sight to patients that don't respond to transplants.

When people go blind, it's often because the cornea is damaged or infected. Many get corneal transplants, but not every patient responds to these, and the supply of eye donors can't always meet demand. One answer is an artificial cornea.

At the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research in Potsdam, Germany, a team of scientists is working on a cornea made of polymer with a coating that would bond to a patient's eye.

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The project is being led by Dr. Joachim Storsberg, who has been working with various institutions to develop artificial corneas since 2005. He's had some success in developing corneas for people with certain types of disease, and initial studies of artificial corneas seem promising.

There are some kinds of "artificial" corneas that are used in the United States, but those are made from a patient's own tissue rather than being entirely artificial. There also has been work on developing synthetic corneas using collagen, a biological material.

Called the ArtCornea, Storsberg's design uses a water-absorbing polymer coupled with a coating that anchors to the human cells. The edge of the cornea is treated to encourage cells near it to grow, bonding the cornea to the eye. The new design, the researchers say, also improves the light-gathering area of the cornea over earlier versions.

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ArtCornea isn't yet widely accepted by clinicians because artificial corneas like this haven't been out for very long; there's not much long-term data on their use. But if it shows some success over several years, it might offer hope to people whose eyes won't tolerate transplants.

via Fraunhofer IAP