A new artificial cornea is tested

An innovative approach to artificial corneas is proving far from disagreeable for test subjects, with reports that 20 people have had their vision improved thanks to corneal transplants made from pig collagen.

Whether the damage occurs due to an accident, infection or disease, corneal blindness is a very serious issue. Worldwide, it is estimated that over 12 million people suffer from corneal blindness and, due to the requirement for a human donor, only around 1 in every 70 receive a corneal transplant. This is where pigs come in…

Yes, you read that right. Dr. Mehrdad Rafat, a professor at Linköping University in Sweden, worked with his colleagues to manufacture a cornea replacement made from extracted and purified collagen taken from pig skin. Resembling a flexible dome similar to a contact lens, the artificial cornea was fitted to 20 human patients. All of these ‘guinea pigs’ had corneal blindness due to keratoconus, a condition where the cornea thins and bulges outward.

Every one of the participants experienced improved vision after the procedure. Three formerly blind volunteers experienced a complete recovery after the new cornea was fitted.

A key benefit of the collagen based cornea was in the body’s ability to accept it. Due to the collagen being devoid of individual cells, the immune system does not view it as a threat. The trial group also took immunosuppressive eye drops for only eight weeks, which is a vast improvement on the years of medication required to avoid donor corneas being rejected.

As amazing as this sounds, it should be noted that most patients with keratoconus can be fitted with custom contact lenses. However, the procedure has potential to help those with more severe corneal damage, meaning this new technology could be a more affordable way to bring a cure to more people around the world.

More trials are now required to find out if porcine collagen is the answer, and if the new little piggy transplants will go to market.