Now, an artificial cornea from China

July 25th, 2010 - 12:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, July 25 (IANS) Chinese scientists are cultivating human cells in a laboratory in a bid to produce artificial cornea, bringing hope to over five million people suffering from corneal blindness in the country.
The cornea, a vulnerable shield protecting the eye, plays a key role in creating vision.

The team from Ocean University of China (OUC) is expected to produce a complete cornea and begin clinical trials in about three to five years, Fan Tingjun, deputy dean of the College of Marine Life Science at the OUC, said.

An artificial cornea, each expected to cost 10,000 to 20,000 yuan ($1,475 to $2,950), would provide an alternative to those patients anxiously awaiting donated corneas for transplant, Fan said.

“Doctors are now able to perform corneal transplant operations only on 3,000 to 4,000 people every year due to a lack of donors,” he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

The team had made a major breakthrough recently by using tissue-engineering technologies to create a tissue similar to the endothelium, the innermost layer of cells essential in keeping the cornea clear, Fan said.

The creation of endothelium was a key barrier in the global study of artificial corneas because the cells of the endothelium do not regenerate, he said.

Fan’s team started their research in 2002. After eight years of trial and error, the team successfully cultivated a large quantity of normal human endothelial cells with the assistance of supports made of human amnion - the thin innermost membranous sac enclosing the developing embryo.

The scientists have transplanted the artificial endothelium to a rabbit, which maintained the transparency of its cornea for more than a year.

Now the team is working on the production of stroma, which accounts for 90 percent of the thickness of the cornea and serves as a bridge between the endothelium and epithelium, the outmost layer of the cornea, to block outside dust and bacteria from reaching the eye, as well as absorb oxygen and cell nutrients from tears.

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