Artificial Cornea Gives The Gift of Vision

Photo: Artifical cornea

Our eyes are our window to the world. Thousands of people have lost their eyesight due to damages to the cornea, such as trauma, absent limbal stem cells or diseases. Transplantation of a donor cornea is the therapy of choice for a great number of those patients. Let alone the issue of scarce donor material, a sub-group of patients do not tolerate transplanted corneas, necessitating the employment of an alternative means of restoring eye sight. In Germany alone, around 7,000 patients are waiting to be treated. In close cooperation with the Aachen Centre of Technology Transfer, Doctor Joachim Storsberg and his team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer research IAP in Potsdam, are attempting to improve the situation by developing an artificial cornea.
“We are in the process of developing two different types of artificial corneas. One of them can be used as an alternative to a donor cornea in cases where the patient would not tolerate a donor cornea, let alone the issue of donor material shortage,” says Storsberg. “A great many patients suffering from a range of conditions will be able to benefit from our new implant, which we have named ArtCornea®.”

ArtCornea® is based on a polymer with high water-absorbent properties. Storsberg and his team have added a new surface coating to ensure anchorage in host tissue and functionality of the optic. The haptic edge was chemically altered to encourage local cell growth. These cells graft to the surrounding human tissue, which is essential for anchorage of the device in the host tissue. The researchers aimed to enlarge the optical surface area of the implant in order to improve light penetration beyond what had previously been possible – a tall order. “Once ArtCornea® is in place, it is hardly visible, except perhaps for a few stitches. It is also easy to implant and does not provoke any immune response,” says Storsberg.

The specialists have also managed to make a chemically and biologically inert base material biologically compatible for the second artificial cornea, ACTO-TexKpro. Storsberg achieved this by selectively altering the base material, polyvinylidene difluoride, by coating the fluoride synthetic tissue with a reactive molecule. This allows the patient’s cornea to bond together naturally with the edge of the implant, while the implant’s inner optics, made of silicon, remain free of cells and clear. The ACTO-TexKpro is particularly suitable as a preliminary treatment, for instance if the cornea has been destroyed as a consequence of chronic inflammation, a serious accident, corrosion or burns.; Quelle: Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer research IAP