Story at a glance
- Corneal implants made from pig skin have restored eyesight into 20 people with damaged or diseased corneas, a new study claims.
- The cornea is the clear part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil and allows light to enter the eye. Corneal impairments are the fourth leading cause of blindness, according to the WHO.
- Researchers hope that the study’s findings mean the implants can serve as an alternative to corneal transplants from humans which can be hard to come by, especially in some countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Implants made from pig skin have restored sight in the blind, according to a new study.
The implant used in the study replicates the human cornea — the transparent part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil allowing light to enter — and is made from collagen protein found in pigs.
In the pilot study, published in journal Nature Biotechnology, the implants were able to restore sight in 20 people with damaged or diseased corneas. Fourteen participants were completely blind prior to the procedure.
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Patients, who lived in India and Iran, had a condition called keratoconus where the cornea gradually becomes thinner and bulges outward.
After 24 months of receiving the implants, all the patients had improved vision, according to the study.
The study crafters, a team of researchers from Sweden, India and Iran, hope that the implants could be a replacement for corneal transplants from humans, which can be hard to come by.
Experts estimate that there are about 12.7 million people who are waiting for donated corneas, with only one cornea available for every 70 people in need of a transplant, the study states.
Lack of access to donated corneas is even more severe in lower to middle-income countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
“The results show that it is possible to develop a biomaterial that meets all the criteria for being used as human implants, which can be mass produced and stored up to two years and thereby reach even more people with vision problems,” said Neil Lagali, co-author of the study and professor at Linkoping University in Sweden.
“This gets us around the problem of shortage of donated corneal tissue and access to other treatments for eye diseases.”
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