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Germany’s Artificial Cornea Ready To Restore Sight To Thousands

artificial-cornea-prototype

An artificial cornea (prototype shown here) could restore sight to thousands starting this year.

An expansive EU project to produce an artificial cornea has found success thanks to the work of Joachim Storsberg of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Germany. Storsberg helped develop a new version of an opthalmological polymer which the eye will bond to and still allow to function properly. The new polymer could help restore sight to thousands waiting for corneal transplants around the world. The artificial cornea has passed clinical trials and is ready to see expanded use in patients this year. Very soon those with corneal blindness may find a ready cure in the form of the new implant.

Corneal blindness affects millions around the world. According to the WHO, about 5 million cases of blindness in the world (as of 2001) were a result of corneal damage or dystrophy. We’ve seen several high-tech approaches to fighting corneal blindness including the application of embryonic stem cells to generate new tissue. For most of those affected around the world, however, corneal transplants represent the surest and most accessible treatment for their condition. A readily accessible, easily made artificial cornea is a huge boon to corneal transplants.

More than one hundred thousand patients wait for corneal transplants each year (~40k in EU, another 40k in the US, and many more around the world). While such transplants are fairly routine and regularly successful operations, they require the donation of the tissue from another human being, almost always someone recently deceased. The artificial cornea not only eases the pressure on finding enough donors for recipient needs, it also provides the opportunity for hospitals to increase the speed and availability of such treatments. Ideally, no one will ever have to go without a new cornea ever again.

artificial-cornea

Joachim Storsberg poses with the new artificial cornea set to see continued use in 2010.

In order to work in the human body, an artificial cornea has to meet some rather stringent requirements. First, it has to bond to the human eye around its edge, but stay unclouded by cells in its center. To that end, Storsberg took a widely used opthalmological polymer (found often in intraocular lenses) and adapted it with other special polymers around the edges. Combined with the application of a growth factor protein, the modified edge promoted cell growth around the periphery of the implant and secured it in place using the body’s own cells. The center of the artificial cornea, however, does not promote cell growth and remains clear so that it can be seen through. The artificial cornea also has to move freely with the eyelid and balance moisture on its faces. The polymer Storsberg chose is hydrophobic, allowing tears to lubricate the surface and provide the correct moisture on both of its sides.

Storsberg’s work was part of a larger EU funded endeavor, the Artificial Cornea Project, which sought to create a non-human based replacement for damaged corneas. The Artificial Cornea Project took three years, and the work of many collaborators around the continent, to produce the new implant. Miro GMBH handled the actual production of the material. Animal trials in pigs and rabbits were successful and lead to the first human uses in 2009. Those early human cases showed enough success to get EU approval for the device and the artificial cornea is expected to see its first widespread use sometime in 2010. That’s very exciting news. This project has not only succeeded, but the fruits of its labor are about to be (readily?) available to patients throughout the EU very soon.

A non-degrading piece of plastic permanently grown into your eye does not sound like the most elegant solution to the problem of corneal blindness, especially when regeneration of tissue through stem cells is on the horizon. But the artificial cornea is a solution which is (almost) available NOW. That’s immensely important. As with so many other current endeavors in medicine, curing blindness is likely to see a staged series of solutions using various emergent technologies. Artificial materials and implants in the near term, autologous stem cells in the far term, and DNA based solutions in the very far term. We need all of these solutions to help transition into a time when blindness is no more of medical hurdle than a broken bone. I wish nothing but the best of luck to Storsberg and the rest of the large team from the Artificiail Cornea Project. With their help I think we are continuing our journey towards an age when medicine can regenerate or replace absolutely any part of your body. Check off “building new eyes” on the list of requirements for immortality.

[image credits: Artificial Cornea Project, Fraunhofter/Dirk Mahler]
[source: Fraunhofer Press Release, Artificial Cornea Project, National Institute of Health]

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43 comments

  • Wolfgang Wozniak says:

    I just want my bionic eyes already.

  • Wolfgang Wozniak says:

    I just want my bionic eyes already.

  • The Avenger says:

    Any info on exactly how well the implant works?

  • The Avenger says:

    Any info on exactly how well the implant works?

  • Thinker says:

    I like technologies like these. However they raise an important question- will ‘Repo Men’ become real given that history has shown that we will start financing such things for ‘consumers’ to buy. And what happens when they can’t pay for it completely? Where do we stand on the ethical and business modeling on this…

    • Stephanie says:

      It’s easy you have something called a Health Service where you pay tax and the government pays for it.

      It’s not perfect but it’s quite a good idea… See lots of Europe as an example.

    • SonFatherGhost says:

      I like technologies like these. However they raise an important question- will ‘Repo Men’ become real given that history has shown that we will start financing such things for ‘consumers’ to buy. And what happens when they can’t pay for it completely? Where do we stand on the ethical and business modeling on this…

      This has already been figured out. If you can not pay. You do not get the device. No financing. Get it?

  • Thinker says:

    I like technologies like these. However they raise an important question- will ‘Repo Men’ become real given that history has shown that we will start financing such things for ‘consumers’ to buy. And what happens when they can’t pay for it completely? Where do we stand on the ethical and business modeling on this…

    • Stephanie says:

      It’s easy you have something called a Health Service where you pay tax and the government pays for it.

      It’s not perfect but it’s quite a good idea… See lots of Europe as an example.

    • SonFatherGhost says:

      I like technologies like these. However they raise an important question- will ‘Repo Men’ become real given that history has shown that we will start financing such things for ‘consumers’ to buy. And what happens when they can’t pay for it completely? Where do we stand on the ethical and business modeling on this…

      This has already been figured out. If you can not pay. You do not get the device. No financing. Get it?

  • S.V. Agashe says:

    This news is of imense interest for me as since 1981, I am trying to promote the noble cause of eye donation in and around mumbai(Bombay) at individual level.In India,out of 1.25 crore of visually impaired persons, around 30 lakh can get the precious vision by a simple way of corneal grafting but the eye donation situation is so pathetic that out of around 85 lakh demises, only about 15 lakh eye donations are taking place.In such a worst situation the artificial corneas can be very much useful – if it’s that successful!

  • martin0641 says:

    I want my bionic eye also, but I’m willing to put that off so that others can see as well as I currently do.

    Once their all set though, I’m getting my upgrades.

  • martin0641 says:

    I want my bionic eye also, but I’m willing to put that off so that others can see as well as I currently do.

    Once their all set though, I’m getting my upgrades.

  • Peter G Kinnon says:

    I suspect the wrier of the article meant “hydrophilic” ?

  • Peter G Kinnon says:

    I suspect the wrier of the article meant “hydrophilic” ?

  • Justin says:

    This is very interesting, I’m curious to know the rate of success and the vision a successful transplant produces.

    I am legally blind and awaiting a corneal transplant (and some other eye work) and I can vouch for the fact that the waiting is probably the most frustrating part.

    (I just want to be able to drive/work again!!!)

  • Justin says:

    This is very interesting, I’m curious to know the rate of success and the vision a successful transplant produces.

    I am legally blind and awaiting a corneal transplant (and some other eye work) and I can vouch for the fact that the waiting is probably the most frustrating part.

    (I just want to be able to drive/work again!!!)

  • BeckyMinx says:

    pretty amazing that they can make this. I wonder how long it lasts inside the eye…5 years? 10 years?

  • BeckyMinx says:

    pretty amazing that they can make this. I wonder how long it lasts inside the eye…5 years? 10 years?

  • energy conservation says:

    Meanwhile, the far superior for-profit American health care system has just released female viagra. Take that, socialized medicine!

    • Garlicnose says:

      Congrats on your selective reporting. I’d have chosen, of many accomplishments, the harvesting of stem cells from the pulp of pulled teeth in order to grow anatomical replacement parts, but that means I would have had to be fair.

      G-d forbid the US should ever look good these days.

  • energy conservation says:

    Meanwhile, the far superior for-profit American health care system has just released female viagra. Take that, socialized medicine!

    • Garlicnose says:

      Congrats on your selective reporting. I’d have chosen, of many accomplishments, the harvesting of stem cells from the pulp of pulled teeth in order to grow anatomical replacement parts, but that means I would have had to be fair.

      G-d forbid the US should ever look good these days.

  • Linda says:

    Does this also work for macular degeneration???

  • Linda says:

    Does this also work for macular degeneration???

  • Garlicnose says:

    This is hopeful news. Kudos and thanks to the Fraunhofer Institute! I hope everyone who needs the artificial cornea will be able to get it.

  • Garlicnose says:

    This is hopeful news. Kudos and thanks to the Fraunhofer Institute! I hope everyone who needs the artificial cornea will be able to get it.

  • Gary says:

    I have advanced Fuchs Epithelial Corneal Dystrophy and this development may be coming just in time for me. I’ll be eagerly following any additional news.

  • Gary says:

    I have advanced Fuchs Epithelial Corneal Dystrophy and this development may be coming just in time for me. I’ll be eagerly following any additional news.

  • Jme87 says:

    i damaged my eyes 10 years ago with contacts….(never took them out, ever)… i’m 23 now and not one doctor (i’ve seen 7-10) will ever give me contacts ever again they say because of the condition of my eyes( my vision is 20/200)which is legally blind but my sight is pretty good with my glasses…. I love my glasses and I’m cute with them I just think I’d like to have to option to where glasses or not… I don’t like being forced to wear them. I just hope I don’t have to wear them everyday, all day, for the rest of my life. (sometimes they can just be in the way) ‘Doctors said I couldn’t get the Lasik Eye Surgery because of the condition of my eyes, so it left me feeling hopeless. I believe this is the technology I was hoping for to fix my eyes. The cornea specialist I went to said, “One day, there will be some kind of technology to fix eyes like yours, it will just take time. ” I can’t wait to figure out how to sign up to get this for myself!!!! Hooray for scientests that came up with this, you are making people’s lives better!

    • Ali says:

      Hello dear, stick to your glasses if they give you good vision, and do not opt for any kind of surgery . I am a patient who has had corneal grafts on both eyes twice in my life, and I am having problem with my vision. Good luck.

  • shahima says:

    had a pt who used babak (i don’t really know what it is) and reported to have 6/6 va for years. he was prescribed babak by a Russian ophthalmologist. could anyone please assist in directing me about what babak really is and how did it giv ethis pt 6/6 va’s.
    tahnk you osmans@nigel.co.za

  • Hareshnarai says:

    I had cornea transplant 6 months ago and has rejected 1 month ago and doctor says go for artifial cornea transplant,its confusing and i need proper informacion.

  • Harry Boil says:

    Do you think these artificial corneas could be used to effectively “reverse” lasik surgery? There are so many patients whose lives are ruined due to poor outcomes from lasik surgery. Lasik surgery only treats the cornea, so presumably one could use an artificial cornea to get rid of problems with glare, halos, starbursts, dry eyes, poor night vision, etc, right?

  • eyeballtech says:

    The Boston K-Pro has been around for awhile and has given our low vision patients with corneal dystrophy/corneal scars renewed hope in their vision. We have had great success with it here in Seattle!

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