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Eye Can See

By Amanda Dickman in News on Apr 10, 2007 5:00PM

2007_4_eye.jpgWe suspect that it would be relatively fantastic to see again after years of blindness. Just ask Robert Murray. He lost his sight fifteen years ago after a chemical splashed into his eyes while on the job. In the years since, Murray has had two failed cornea transplants, and things looked (no pun intended) relatively hopeless until he found out about a new development, artificial cornea transplants.

Conveniently for Murray, they are done right here at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago by Drs. Dimitri Azar and Jose de la Cruz. These guys spend their days restoring sight to patients; they do cornea transplants like it's their job. Oh, wait. Both are experts in their field and trained at Harvard Medical School under Claes Dohlman MD, the cornea surgeon who developed the procedure.

While human-donor cornea transplants are nothing new (there are 30,000 of such procedures done every year) and plenty of people do just fine with this type of corneal transplant, there are many others who have more complicated cases, thus preventing them from receiving the human donor tissue by itself. That's why the good doctors at UIC and Harvard developed the artificial corneal transplant (called keratoprosthesis, or k-pro).

The artificial version features clear plastic pieces fastened to a donor cornea and inserted into the eye (for fellow science geeks, you can find further details of the k-pro procedure here). Surrounding the donor cornea with plastic protects the tissue from rejection and/or excess blood vessel growth to the area. And, viola!

Murray had the procedure done on his right eye, and now, along with a protective contact lens and antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection, he has near perfect vision. The left eye is next.

According to Dohlman, about 1,200 patients worldwide have received his artificial cornea. And the results are promising; of the 173 that he and a colleague have implanted in the last three years, only two have failed.

Image via runjenrun01.