Synthetic cornea helped a legally blind man regain his sight

CorNeat's artificial cornea integrates with the eye wall with no donor tissue needed.

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A legally blind 78-year old man has regained his sight after being the inaugural patient to receive a promising new type of corneal implant, Israel Hayom has reported. Developed by a company called CorNeat, the KPro is the first implant that can be integrated directly into the eye wall to replace scarred or deformed corneas with no donor tissue. Immediately after the surgery, the patient was able to recognize family members and read numbers on an eye chart.

The corona is the clear layer that covers and protects the front portion of the eye. It can degenerate or scar for various reasons, including diseases like pseudophakic bullous keratopathy, kerotoconus and trauma.

Artificial cornea implants already exist for patients with corneal degeneration, but because the surgeries are complex, they’re usually a last resort when transplants or cornea ring implants don’t work. By contrast, inserting the CorNeat transplant is a relatively simple procedure that requires minimal stitches and cutting. On top of that, it uses a biomimetic material that “stimulates cellular proliferation, leading to progressive tissue integration,” according to CorNeat.

A very cool animation (above) shows exactly how this works, with the end result that the device is fully transplanted inside the eye wall. “Fibroblasts and collagen gradually colonize the integrating skirt and full integration is achieved within weeks, permanently embedding the device within the patient’s eye,” according to CorNeat. That allows for improved visual acuity and “exceptionally fast healing times,” and it looks fairly natural, to boot.

The company said that ten more patients are approved for trials in Israel. It plans to open two more this month in Canada, with six others in the approval process in France, the US and the Netherlands. While the implant doesn’t contain any electronics, it could help more people than any robotic eye. “After years of hard work, seeing a colleague implant the CorNeat KPro with ease and witnessing a fellow human being regain his sight the following day was electrifying and emotionally moving, there were a lot of tears in the room,” said CorNeat Vision co-founder Dr. Gilad Litvin.

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