For people who have become blind because their corneas have been traumatized or ravaged by disease and cannot tolerate a transplant, there is hope. Researchers in Germany have developed a polymer that creates artificial corneas that can be better tolerated by patients.
Blindness caused by corneal problems is difficult to cure. Transplants are the common remedy, but in many cases they are not possible because patients sometimes reject the donated cornea. Moreover, there is a shortage of donors. In Germany alone, 7,000 patients are waiting to be treated.
“We are in the process of developing two different types of artificial corneas. One of them can be used as an alternative to a donor cornea in cases where the patient would not tolerate a donor cornea, let alone the issue of donor material shortage,” says Dr. Joachim Storsberg, who is the project manager from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research in Potsdam, Germany.
A few years ago, Dr. Storsberg had developed an artificial cornea for patients suffering from clouded corneas. Such patients are often unable to accept a donor cornea either because of an illness that lead to the condition or because they have already been through several unsuccessful transplantation attempts, according to a press release from the institute.
The artificial cornea is based on a polymer that has high water-absorbent properties. The surface coating ensures that the cornea anchors to the host tissue and is transparent for the wearer. The cornea’s edge is altered to encourage local cell growth, which graft to the surrounding human tissue.
The researchers have named the cornea ArtCornea. “Once ArtCornia is in place, it is hardly visible, except perhaps for a few stitches. It’s also easy to implant and doesn’t provoke any immune response,” Dr. Storsberg says.
The cornea has a base material made of polyvinylidene difluoride. The researchers coat that fluoride tissue with a reactive molecule. Then the patient’s cornea can bond together naturally with the edge of the implant. Meanwhile, the implant’s inner optics are made of silicon, which is free of cells and is clear.
Dr. Storsberg was awarded the Josef von Fraunhofer Prize in 2010 for his work in artificial corneas. “A great many patients suffering from a range of conditions will be able to benefit from our new implant,” he says.