Researchers have developed a material that could provide the basis for a new generation of artificial corneas.
Chemical engineer Curtis Frank was due to present the new biomimetic material, Duoptix, at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco yesterday (September 11th).
The material is a hydrogel, which means that it can swell to a water content of around 80 per cent, and exhibits a water concentration and mechanical properties "that rival those of the natural cornea", according to one of the researchers, David Myung.
Cornea transplants are already a possibility, although the tissue currently has to be obtained from cadavers.
There is therefore a limited supply of donor tissue and, as laser eye surgery
becomes more common, the amount of potential donor tissue decreases as the surgery renders the tissue unsuitable for donation.
"In many countries, tissue availability is a problem," comments Christopher Ta, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Stanford University Medical Centre. "If the tissue is artificial, we don't have to rely on donor tissue."
In addition, donor tissue has a rejection rate of around 20 per cent, making it a risky procedure, whereas a tissue-engineered artificial cornea would be more readily accepted and could potentially eliminate the need for donor tissue.
A couple of artificial cornea products are already on the market, but these provide a less than perfect solution and are only used when a transplant has failed.
The researchers have already tested the Duoptix in animals, where it has produced encouraging results, and believe that it could provide renewed sight for at least ten million blind people worldwide, in addition to correcting near and farsightedness in millions more.© Adfero Ltd