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An implant made from pig skin restored sight to 19 people in recent study

The implant developed by scientists at Linköping University.

The implant developed by scientists at Linköping University.
Photo: Thor Balkhed/Linköping University

A team of scientists say they’We’ve found a new way to help people with damaged corneas: biotech implants made from pig skin. In findings from a small clinical trial published this month, the implants were shown to restore people’s vision for up to two years, including those who were legal. Blind. If it remains promising, the technology could one day offer a mass-produced alternative to donated human corneas for people with these conditions.

The cornea is the transparent outer layer of the eye. In addition to protecting the rest of the eye, it helps us see by focusing the light passing through it. Cornea can heal easily from mild abrasions, but more serious injuries and certain diseases can leave permanently damaged corneas that begin to impair our vision. About 4 million people are thought according to the World Health Organization suffer from vision problems caused by damaged corneas, and it is one of the leading causes of blindness.

For people with severely damaged cornea, the only truly effective treatment is a transplant of a healthy cornea, also known as a corneal graft. Unfortunately, like many other organs, human corneas must be used very quickly after being donated. and they are often scarce, especially for people living in poorer countries. That scarcity has fueled researchers’ efforts to find other methods to replace or support damaged corneas. One such approach is the implant created by researchers at Linköping University (LiU) in Sweden, who also founded the company LinkoCare Life Sciences AB to further develop it.

in their Research, published last week in Nature Biotechnology, the team gave their implant to 20 patients from India and Iran with advanced keratoconus, a condition in which the cornea gradually thins. Nineteen of the 20 patients subsequently experienced substantial improvements in their vision, and all 14 people who were legally blind no longer met that threshold. The patients who needed further corrective treatment were now able to tolerate contact lenses again. And these gains remained stable two years later, with no side effects reported.

“The results show that it is possible to develop a biomaterial that meets all the criteria for use as human implants, which can be mass-produced and stored for up to two years, thereby helping even more people with vision problems.” achieve,” said the study’s author. Mehrdad Rafat, a professor in LiU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and CEO of LinkoCare, in a pronunciation from the university.

There are existing artificial corneas in use, as well as similar treatments in development. But the researchers say their implant should have some significant advantages over these options. Many of these treatments still rely on donated corneas to reduce the risk of body rejection, while the team’s implant instead uses relatively inexpensive biosynthetic material derived from purified pig skin. The material is then used to create a thin but durable layer of mostly collagen, the same basic component of the cornea. In the current study, patients received only eight weeks of transplant drugs to ensure acceptance by the body, unlike the year or more of medication usually given to people with corneal transplants, and no signs of rejection were reported.

They also have a less developed invasive surgical method of inserting their implant, one that does not require the removal of the original cornea, which should reduce the risk of complications and allow wider use in sites with fewer resources. And other research from them suggests that the materials in the implant should remain stable for at least eight years, if not longer.

“We have made significant efforts to ensure that our invention will be available and affordable to everyone, not just the wealthy. Therefore, this technology can be used in all parts of the world,” said Rafat.

Of course, these findings are still very small in scope. It will take successful results seen in many more patients before a country would think to approve this treatment. To that end, the researchers are planning larger clinical trials of their implant, and they may broaden their work to see if the treatment could work for other corneal-related conditions.

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