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Artificial cornea restores vision

The implant, made of collagen from pig skin, resembles the human cornea

Thor Balkhed / Universidade Linköping

Twelve people in Iran and eight in India—all with advanced keratoconus, a disease that deforms the cornea (the membrane that covers the eye) and can lead to total blindness—were given a bioengineered cornea implant with the aim of restoring their vision, without the need for any tissue removal or sutures. Developed by scientists from the Tehran and Tabriz Universities of Medical Sciences, both in Iran, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India, the implant was made primarily of collagen, a type of protein that gives tissue its elasticity, which they extracted from pig skin, purified, and then chemically treated to increase transparency. After biocompatibility tests with animal models, the implant was applied to the human patients, whose corneas then returned to the thickness they were before the keratoconus. Three participants from India, previously blind, fully regained their sight. Two years later, the vision of all 20 patients had improved to a degree equivalent to that provided by a cornea transplant, the usual approach to treating the disease. Currently, only one in 70 people at risk of losing their sight manage to receive a cornea transplant. Around 13 million people are awaiting cornea donation worldwide (Nature Biotechnology, August 11).