Researchers from Linkoping University and LinkoCare were able to return vision to fourteen corneal blindness patients with a special corneal implant of medical-grade collagen collected from pig skin, observes GlobalData. The leading data and analytics company notes that with this new alternative to human corneal donation, no stitches are required when inserting the implant into the existing cornea. Additionally, the incision is minimally invasive and can be carried out using an advanced laser or by hand.
According to a study by Gain and colleagues, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, an estimated 12.7 million people are on a waiting list for corneal transplants, which is the only curative treatment for corneal blindness. However, only one in seventy people are able to get the surgery.
Rebecca Wu, Medical Device Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Using pig skin could lessen waiting times for patients who need corneal transplants. This is because patients no longer need to wait for a suitable donor. Similarly, as pig skin is quite accessible, it allows for pharma companies who specialize in creating this special corneal implant from pig skin collagen to do so easily making this type of surgery more accessible.”
For those with corneal blindness, donor availability is not the only limitation with typical treatment. The surgery requires a physician to surgically replace a cornea and sew it into position, which has the risks of graft rejection, healing complications, infections, astigmatism, and a need for long-term support. For patients, this could mean additional health burdens post-surgery, as well as additional financial burdens to obtain treatment for post-surgery complications and potentially long-term support. Moreover, if patients do require long-term support from friends and family, this could also affect their caretaker’s career, their finances, physical and mental health.
Wu adds: “These are very exciting times as using pig skin not only allows us to reduce our carbon footprint by reusing materials but also has the added benefits of decreasing the number of risks associated with corneal implant surgery. No stitches are required when inserting the implant into the existing cornea unlike the traditional method. However, despite the exciting results, researchers will need to perform a larger clinical study before it could be formally approved and used in healthcare.”