Pig Eye Transplant? Well, Not Quite.

Pig Eye Transplant? Well, Not Quite.

BY : Rhiannon Nevinczenko

Human beings navigate the world primarily by sight. Our high visual acuity (good vision) is a precious sense, and deeply felt loss when something goes wrong. For example, patients who suffer from keratoconus gradually lose their vision in one or both eyes, as their cornea(s) slowly thin, deforming into a cone shape. For some, this results in a cornea transplant becoming necessary, or even permanent vision loss.
As with any organ transplant, corneal transplants can be a tricky and expensive affair, as they require human tissue donation. Donors are notoriously few and far between, and even with the available resources, organ rejection can be of great concern. Additionally, the removal and replacement of tissue can injure or remove otherwise healthy and wanted cells. But what if there was a way to save patients' vision without needing to use donor tissue?
20 keratoconus patients, 14 of whom were blind, recently underwent a new kind of corneal transplant that restored their vision. For three of these patients, the solution resulted in perfect vision. Two years on, the patients had not experienced organ rejection (which, if it is going to happen, tends to start within a year).
The corneal implants they received were bioengineered by dissolving pig tissue (a byproduct of the food industry) into a purified collagen solution, which was then turned into a hydrogel that can mimic the human cornea. The operation required for this took less time and was less invasive than a traditional corneal transplant.
Rafat et al. (the authors of the paper which announced this development) hope that this technique can provide a more affordable, more accessible, and effective treatment for corneal damage, such as keratoconus.
Reference: Rafat, M., Jabbarvand, M., Sharma, N., Xeroudaki, M., Tabe, S., Omrani, R., Thangavelu, M., Mukwaya, A., Fagerholm, P., Lennikov, A., Askarizadeh, F., & Legali, N. (2023). Bioengineered corneal tissue for minimally invasive vision restoration in advanced keratoconus in two clinical cohorts. Nature Biotechnology, 41, 70-81. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-022-01408-w
Image credit: Madhero88 via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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