SWITZERLAND/IRAN: According to a study published on August 11 in Nature Biotechnology, eye implants made from pigskin have helped persons who are blind or have significant vision impairment regain their vision.
Twenty patients from Iran and India with damage to the cornea, the outer layer that protects the eye, were studied by researchers from Tehran University of Medical Sciences and Linköping University in Sweden. 14 of those individuals had blindness.
According to Neil Lagali, co-author of the study and professor of experimental ophthalmology at Linköping University, the research team employed pigskin to manufacture a substance that would help thicken and protect the cornea from restoring the eyes’ functionality.
After the procedure, three of the patients had perfect vision, and 19 out of the 20 patients saw at least some improvement in their vision thanks to the successful eye implant that was created. Although some patients had more improvements in their vision than others, after two years of follow-up, patients had not rejected the tissue or encountered any other issues.
Previously, cornea transplants were carried out using human tissue obtained from deceased organ donors who volunteered to be donors. Researchers had to find a solution because the tissue, like other human donor organs, was in short supply compared to the number of people who needed it.
They discovered that using the abundant collagen, a protein in pigskin, it was possible to make a hydrogel that functioned similarly to the cornea.
According to Lagali, “collagen from pigskin is a byproduct from the food sector. This broadens its availability and makes it simpler to obtain.”
In recent years, pigs have been the preferred source for other organs that could be transplanted into human patients, such as kidneys and hearts. Genetic engineering has made it possible to alter molecules in pig cells to stop immune responses and organ rejection in human recipients.
Since the implant concentrates on a particular area of the cornea, the research comes with the warning that it might not be helpful for all kinds of cornea transplants.
But, according to Dr Marian Macsai, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Chicago who wasn’t involved in the study, it might be “revolutionary” for people who, like the study patients, have keratoconus, a disorder that damages the cornea.
The research team hopes to eventually get the surgery approved by regulators after testing their findings on a larger group of patients. It might one day benefit resource-poor regions of the world that are most affected by blindness, according to Lagali.