An implant made from pigskin restored the sight of 19 people in a recent trial

The implant developed by scientists at Linköping University.

The implant developed by scientists at Linköping University.
photo: Thor Balkhed/Linköping University

A team of scientists says that “We’ve found a new way to help people with damaged corneas: bioengineered implants made from pig skin. In the findings of a small clinical trial published this month, the implants were shown to restore people’s sight for up to two years, even in those who were legally blind. blind If it continues to show promise, the technology may one day offer a mass-produced alternative to donated human corneas for people with these conditions.

The cornea is the transparent outer covering of the eye. In addition to protecting the rest of the eye, it helps us see by focusing the light that passes through it. Corneas can heal from minor abrasions easily enough, but more serious injuries and certain diseases can leave behind permanently damaged corneas that begin to impair our vision. Around 4 million people are thought suffer from vision-related problems caused by damaged corneas, according to the World Health Organization, and is one of the leading causes of blindness.

For those with severely damaged corneas, the only truly effective treatment is a transplant of a healthy cornea, also known as a corneal graft. Unfortunately, like many organs, human corneas must be used very soon after being donated, and they are often in short supply, especially for people living in the poorest countries. This shortage has fueled researchers’ efforts to find other methods to replace or support damaged corneas. One such approach is the implant created by researchers at Linköping University (LiU) in Sweden, who also founded the company LinkoCare Life Sciences AB to develop it.

In their research, published Last week in Nature Biotechnology, the team gave their implant to 20 patients in India and Iran with advanced keratoconus, a condition where the cornea becomes progressively thinner. Nineteen of 20 patients experienced substantial improvements in their vision afterward, and the 14 people who were legally blind no longer met that threshold. Patients who needed additional corrective treatment were also able to tolerate contact lenses again. And those gains remained stable two years later, while no adverse events were reported.

“The results show that it is possible to develop a biomaterial that meets all the criteria to be used as human implants, which can be mass-produced and stored for up to two years and thus reach more people with vision problems,” said l author of the study. Mehrdad Rafat, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at LiU and director general of LinkoCare, in a statement of the university

There are existing ones artificial corneas in use, as well as similar treatments in development. But researchers say their implant should have some key advantages over those options. Many of these treatments still rely on donated corneas to reduce the risk of rejection by the body, while the team’s implant uses relatively cheap biosynthetic material derived from purified pig skin. The material is then used to create a thin but durable layer of mostly collagen, the same basic ingredient of the cornea. In the current study, patients were given only eight weeks of transplant drugs to ensure acceptance by the body, unlike the year or more of medication it is usually given to those with corneal grafts and no signs of rejection were reported.

They have also developed a minus invasive surgical method to insert your implant, one that does not require removing the original cornea, which should reduce the risk of complications and allow for wider use in places with fewer resources. And his other research suggests that implant materials should remain stable for at least eight years, if not longer.

“We have made significant efforts to ensure that our invention is widely available and affordable to all and not just the rich. That is why this technology can be used in all parts of the world,” said Rafat.

Of course, these findings are still very small. Successful results seen in many more patients will be needed before any country will consider approving this treatment. To that end, the researchers are planning larger clinical trials of their implant and may expand their work to see if the treatment might work for other cornea-related conditions.

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