Cornea Implant Made from PIG'S SKIN restores Sight in 20 Blind People: Study

  • A cornea implant made of pig skin can restore vision to those with disease corneas.
  • A pilot study of 20 participants restored vision for all, including 14 with total vision loss.
  • The alternative to donated corneas, which are hard to come by, has additional benefits such as a long shelf life and a low price point.

A corneal implant made of collagen protein from pig’s skin has successfully restored vision to 20 people with diseased corneas, most of whom were previously blind, in a pilot study led by researchers at Linköping University (Sweden) and LinkoCare Life Sciences AB.

An estimated 12.7 million people around the world are blind due to their corneas, and a transplanted cornea from a human donor is the only way to regain vision. But, just one in 70 patients receives a cornea transplant. The process is expensive, and extremely limited in low- and middle-income countries like Iran and India, where the pilot study took place.

The 20 participants received a cornea implant consisting mainly of protein collagen molecules derived from pig skin. The researchers stabilized the loose collagen molecules to form a robust and transparent material that could withstand handling and implantation in the eye. The operations were free from complications; the tissue healed fast; and an eight-week treatment with immunosuppressive eye drops was enough to prevent rejection of the implant, as opposed to conventional corneal transplants where medicine must be taken for several years.

In a study published in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers say the participants’ sight improved as much as it would have after a cornea transplant with donated tissue. Before the operation, 14 of the 20 participants were blind. After two years, none were blind any more. Three of the Indian participants who had been blind prior to the study had 20/20 vision after the operation.

Additionally, the scientists were surprised to find that with the bioengineering implant, the cornea’s thickness and curvature were restored to normal.

The implant comes with even more benefits. The pig skin used to construct the implant is a byproduct of the food industry, making it easy to access and economically advantageous. Additionally, while donated corneas must be used within two weeks, the bioengineered corneas can be stored for up to two years before use.

“We’ve made significant efforts to ensure that our invention will be widely available and affordable by all and not just by the wealthy. That’s why this technology can be used in all parts of the world,” said Mehrdad Rafat, the researcher and entrepreneur behind the design and development of the implants.

A larger clinical study is needed before the implant can be used in healthcare. The researchers also want to study whether the technology can be used to treat more eye diseases, and whether the implant can be adapted to the individual for even greater efficacy.

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