New alternatives to human corneal transplants?

27 June 24

written by:

Press Office

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For every 70 people needing a transplant, only 1 cornea is available. Researchers are exploring alternatives to hopefully reduce the need for human cornea donations.

A 91-year-old from Surrey has become one of the first 200 people in the world to receive an artificial cornea transplant. Cecil Farley was offered this treatment after a failed human transplant instead of going back onto a year-long waiting list.

Farley had problems with his right eye for about 15 years before losing his vision.

He needed a cornea transplant to save his sight but his previous surgery – a graft with a human cornea – failed. With a waiting list of 12.7 million people, there is a worldwide shortage of corneas. For every 70 people needing a transplant, only 1 cornea is available.

For every 70 people needing a transplant, only 1 cornea is available.


Medics hope that one day the new artificial corneas could reduce the need for human cornea donations.

The cornea is the clear tissue on the front of the eye. It’s made up of many layers and is there to protect the eye and directs light to enable sight, but in those with conditions known as ‘corneal dystrophies’ it can become misshapen or blurry, causing people to experience vision impairment or lose their sight completely.


Advancing patient care

Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust consultant ophthalmologist Thomas Poole told the PA news agency the use of artificial corneas is a “great advancement for patient care”. Fight for Sight Chief Executive, Keith Valentine, said: “Science has real potential for some of the diseases that affect large numbers of people being treated.”

“As a funder of scientific research, it’s great to see the impact that research is having on the lives of people who are vision impaired. We have an ambitious five year strategy for the research we’re funding, specifically we are seeking projects that will help us to better understand, prevent, diagnose and treat vision loss.”

Beyond corneal transplants

We’re funding research that aims to develop a treatment that could replace corneal transplants for people who have inherited corneal dystrophies.

Dr Chiappini at King’s College London is seeking to understand and ‘correct’ gene mutations that cause inherited corneal dystrophies.

The early-research project begins September 2024. The novel gene editing method aims to change a particular genetic mutation involved in a type of corneal dystrophy called posterior polymorphous corneal dystrophy (PPCD), a condition characterised by damage to the innermost part of the cornea. If successful, this approach could be adapted for other corneal dystrophies, including Fuchs Dystrophy.

The treatment being proposed involves introducing ‘nanoneedles’ into the eye. These are millions of tiny painless dissolvable needles on the surface of a thin material that’s inserted into the eye. These nanoneedles carry the treatment only to the cells affected by the genetic mutation that has been passed down.

It’s hoped that if we can directly edit a genetic mutation that causes damage to the cornea, we may be able to stop or prevent its deterioration, creating a potential alternative to human corneal transplants.

Fight for Sight has contributed funding to a number of projects looking at the underlying genetics of different types of corneal dystrophies, including finding a new genetic cause of PPCD.