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Home / Health & Science

Reversing blindness now easier

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy KILLIAD SINIDE | Mon,Feb 01 2021 11:00:00 EAT
By KILLIAD SINIDE | Mon,Feb 01 2021 11:00:00 EAT

It is the window of your eye; a very important part of your peepers. Should you scratch or injure it, it will do its best to self-repair. But woe unto you if the damage to the cornea is severe.

Corneal diseases are the second leading cause of blindness in most developing countries after uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts. The World Health Organisation estimates that about 2 million people suffer from corneal blindness every year.

The only way to restore vision to a person with a damaged cornea is through a cornea transplant. A cornea transplant is a surgical procedure to replace part of your cornea with corneal tissue from a dead donor. The cornea is the transparent part of the eye that covers the front portion.

A cornea transplant can restore vision, reduce pain, and improve the appearance of a damaged or diseased cornea. But the odds of getting a cornea in countries like Kenya are not good because people love their body parts even when they are dead. Kenya performs about 200 corneal transplants annually, with donations mainly coming from the Shah community.

Meanwhile, the Lions SightFirst Eye Hospital estimates that the country has about 50,000 people suffering from corneal blindness, with an annual increment of 5,000 people, most being children.

Alternative to donors

Thanks to science, donated corneas may soon not be the only option in reversing blindness after the world witnessed the first artificial cornea transplant. This procedure was done on January 11 at the Rabin Medical Centre in Israel.

A 78-year-old man who had lost his sight 10 years ago regained vision after being fitted with an artificial implant called KPro. The implant, which was created by CorNeat Vision, an Israeli company, has the ability to replace deformed, scarred or opaque corneas, as it melds with the eyewall.

KPro is designed with a non-degradable synthetic nano-tissue that is placed under the conjunctiva, a thin membrane that covers the surface of the eyelid and the white part of the eyeball, the sclera.

Several attempts by the patient to restore his sight through donor cornea transplants all failed, exposing him to infection and lowering chances of successive procedures. But this time, in a procedure that took less than an hour, the man was able to identify his relatives after his bandages were removed.

“The moment we took off the bandages was emotional and significant,” Prof Irit Bahar, who did the surgery, said in a statement. “Moments like these are the fulfilment of our calling as doctors. We are proud of being at the forefront of this exciting and meaningful project, which will undoubtedly impact the lives of millions.”

In June 2020, CorNeat Vision received approval to proceed with clinical trials of the KPro implant on 10 patients who had corneal blindness. The patients had either experienced failed corneal transplants in the past or were not suitable candidates for transplants.

“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,” said Gilad Litvin, MD, CorNeat Vision’s co-founder and the inventor of the implant.

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