A value engineered solution for corneal regeneration

Blindness caused by corneal scarring is a problem worldwide. It’s a condition that can result from eye injury or an acquired or hereditary medical condition.

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A treatment for this condition has been developed by taking a small biopsy from the patient’s unaffected eye and then expanding these corneal stem cells in specialist laboratories. These cells are then placed on a human amniotic membrane to graft back onto the eye.

A collaboration of scientists led by Professor Sheila MacNeil and her team at the University of Sheffield, working with LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, developed a technique involving using a very small piece of tissue from the patient’s unaffected eye. This is cut into about 8/10 small pieces (containing the corneal stem cells) and lightly attached to a biodegradable membrane, then placed on the damaged eye, following the removal of damaged tissue.

The body then grows these healthy cells to form a new cornea and give the patient much improved vision within a matter of weeks and a much improved quality of life.

The current technique uses an amniotic membrane to place the cells on. This membrane is obtained following childbirth, screened, tested and stored in cryogenic conditions until it is needed. Since its introduction in 2011, 25 clinincs around the world have taken on this innovative technique (known as Simple Limbal Epithelial Transplantation) and have now treated thousands of patients.

There are, however, inherent risks around using amniotic membranes as they may contain viruses that could be transmitted to the patient, particularly in developing countries, where many centres do not have access to safely banked amniotic membrane.

Accordingly research, sponsored by Wellcom Affordable Healthcare for India, is now focused on developing a synthetic membrane. This is at an advanced stage and would provide surgeons with a ready supply of materials with which to treat many more patients.

REF 2021 illustration

Research Excellence Framework 2021 results

The results demonstrate our research and impact excellence across a broad range of disciplines and confirm that our research is having a significant positive impact on lives across the globe.