Cornea forms the front outermost part of the eye. It acts as a physical barrier to protect the rest of the eye from germs and other potentially harmful particles in the environment. It focuses about 65-75% of the light reaching the eyes. The combined focusing power of the cornea and lens is required for clear and accurate vision. Cornea can be damaged by an injury or cornea dystrophy. In many cases, the patient may require a cornea transplant to restore proper vision. The transplant procedure has become quite common with about 44,000 transplants performed in the U.S each year. However, transplants are mostly performed using tissue from deceased organ donors thereby limiting the amount of possible corneal transplants that could be performed on patients who need them. Moreover, the patient can experience tissue rejection and may require another transplant to avoid further complications. Researchers at SDSU are working on biomaterials that can be used to generate viable corneal tissue in the lab; this will enable doctors to perform more corneal transplants. Furthermore, the procedure will enable scientists to generate healthy corneal tissue using a patient’s corneal cells thereby minimizing the potential for tissue rejection and other immunogenic complications. Currently, material that contains an exact composition of corneal tissue components is not available in the market and it is difficult to make by supplementing with various commercially available exogenous chemicals. Use of non-native materials to treat ocular injuries may produce toxic or immunogenic reactions.
SDSU researchers have generated biomaterial utilizing liquefied corneal tissue that is adaptable to various clinical uses involving cornea as well as other tissues. The tissue contains all the necessary components including extracellular matrix proteins (ECM) and carbohydrates required for proper functioning and growth of the cornea cells. Called “liquid cornea ECMIX”, this biomaterial is ideal for the treatment of various cornea-related clinical disorders that require the generation of new corneal cells for the cure. This material is well suited for this purpose as it contains all the components native to the cornea and meshes well with the tissue when employed.
The product can be used to treat a wide range of cornea associated clinical conditions (corneal dystrophies, recurrent corneal epithelial erosions) that arise due to impairment in the regeneration and/or attachment of cells on the surface or inside of the cornea or to provide tensile strength and structural support. The material is also useful in the treatment of non-ocular disorders where there is a requirement for the presence of environment rich in healthy extracellular matrix (to repair a torn ligament, or for treating war inflicted wounds in military soldiers, burn patients or for treating atrial septal defects in the heart).