Cornea made from pig collagen gives blind people 20/20 vision

Twenty legally blind or visually impaired people received corneal transplants made from porcine collagen. All had improved eyesight, including three who now have 20/20 vision after being legally blind


August 11, 2022

Cornea made from porcine collagen


Corneas made from pig collagen have restored sight to people who were previously legally blind or partially sighted. Two years after the operations, none of the recipients reported serious complications or adverse side effects.

More than 12 million people worldwide suffer from corneal blindness, which can occur when the transparent, protective outer layer of the eyes becomes cloudy or distorted by damage or disease. Because corneal transplants currently require a human donor, only 1 in 70 people in need of care receive one. In many low-income countries, the cost of the operation further complicates access to treatment.

Mehrdad Rafat of Linköping University in Sweden and his colleagues have made a flexible yet strong dome that looks like a contact lens by extracting and purifying collagen from pigskin. After successful trials, the team began testing the artificial corneas in human volunteers.

All 20 people in the trial suffered from corneal blindness due to keratoconus, a condition in which the cornea thins and bulges outward from the center of the eye. Fourteen were legally blind before the operation and six had severely impaired sight. Afterwards, everyone had better vision. Three of the former blind participants had 20/20 vision after the procedure.

“I remember the first time the first implant was implanted in one of the patients,” says Rafat. ” I could not sleep. I stayed up all night, just waiting for the surgeon to tell me, how was the operation? When sight was restored, “it was amazing,” he says. “We got much better results than expected.”

Because collagen is a structured protein that lacks individual cells, the recipient’s immune system should not reject the porcine cornea. People with donor corneas usually have to take medication for several years to prevent rejection, while people in the study used immunosuppressive eye drops for eight weeks.

Esen Akpek of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland says the new cornea may not be as revolutionary as it first appears. She says people with keratoconus can often be fitted with personalized contact lenses, and previous alternatives to donor corneas have been designed but haven’t taken off. “It won’t cure anyone who can’t be cured with currently available technology,” Akpek says.

Rafat is unsure of the final cost of the procedure, but he says it should be more affordable than donor transplants, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars in the United States. Further clinical trials will be needed before porcine cornea becomes more widely available.

Journal reference: Natural biotechnologyDOI: 10.1038/s41587-022-01408-w

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