Synthetic cornea regenerates damaged eye
26 August 2010
Artificial corneas made from laboratory grown collagen have
regenerated and repaired damaged eye tissue and improved vision in
patients with corneal blindness.
Globally, diseases that lead to clouding of the cornea represent the
most common cause of blindness. With a world-wide shortage of donor
corneas, the new technique could offer a safe alternative to the
millions of people with damaged corneas.
“This study is important because it is the first to show that an
artificially fabricated cornea can integrate with the human eye and
stimulate regeneration,” said senior author Dr. May Griffith of
Linköping University and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the
University of Ottawa. “With further research, this approach could
help restore sight to millions of people who are waiting for a
donated human cornea for transplantation.”
Professor May Griffith holding a synthetic cornea
The cornea is a thin transparent layer of collagen and cells that
acts as a window into the eyeball. It must be completely transparent
to allow the light to enter and it also helps with focus.
More than a decade ago, Dr. Griffith and her colleagues began
developing biosynthetic corneas in Ottawa, Canada, using collagen
produced in the laboratory and moulded into the shape of a cornea.
After extensive laboratory testing, Dr. Griffith began collaborating
with Professor Per Fagerholm, an eye surgeon at Linköping University
in Sweden to provide the first-in-human experience with biosynthetic
Together, they initiated a clinical trial in 10 Swedish patients
with advanced keratoconus or central corneal scarring. Each patient
underwent surgery on one eye to remove damaged corneal tissue and
replace it with the biosynthetic cornea, made from synthetically
cross-linked recombinant human collagen.
Over two years of follow-up, the researchers observed that cells
and nerves from the patients’ own corneas had grown into the
implant, resulting in a “regenerated” cornea that resembled normal,
healthy tissue. Patients did not experience any rejection reaction
or require long-term immune suppression, which are serious side
effects associated with the use of human donor tissue.
The biosynthetic corneas also became sensitive to touch and began
producing normal tears to keep the eye oxygenated. Vision improved
in six of the ten patients, and after contact lens fitting, vision
was comparable to conventional corneal transplantation with human
“We are very encouraged by these results and by the great
potential of biosynthetic corneas,” said Dr. Fagerholm. “Further
biomaterial enhancements and modifications to the surgical technique
are ongoing, and new studies are being planned that will extend the
use of the biosynthetic cornea to a wider range of sight-threatening
conditions requiring transplantation.”
The results, from an early phase clinical trial with 10 patients,
are published in the August 25th, 2010 issue of Science
Translational Medicine 
1. A Biosynthetic Alternative to Human Donor Tissue for Inducing
Corneal Regeneration: 24-Month Follow-Up of a Phase 1 Clinical
Study. Sci Transl Med 25 August 2010: Vol. 2, Issue 46, p.