Breakthrough Research makes Cornea Transplants Effective and Safer

The five basic senses that humans possess are all indispensable but it is undeniable that the organs associated with one can be more sensitive and fragile than the other. Eyes, for instance, require a lot of care and if not taken care of in a proper way they may require significant repair.

Cornea, the transparent dome-shaped layer of tissues, helps the eyes in focusing light and protects the eyes from foreign particles and harmful rays.

Throughout human history, they have been subjected to unusual damage and hence were one of the earliest transplantation experiments.

A team of researchers at the Kyoto University had been trying to make the surgery more affordable and safer and one of their recent researches has proved fruitful. The findings from the research were published in Nature Biomedical Engineering magazine.

Ophthalmologists from the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, Kyoto, Japan were also on the panel of the research team. The team was led by physicists from the Kyoto University and together they have developed a biomarker which they have coined as the ‘quantitative biomarker’.

The biomarker, which is a physical agent, can assess the quality of the corneal layer while making sure that the damage caused to the cells during the assessment is minimal. This is a breakthrough in corneal transplant techniques as not only does it assess the quality of the cells it can also predict the overall effectiveness and longevity of them.

One of the researchers Mr. Motomu Tanaka explained, “Cornea transplantations become necessary when corneal endothelial cells decrease in number, resulting in haziness.”

Tanaka is also serving as a professor at Center for Integrative Medicine and Physics, Kyoto University and is among the top researchers at the Physical Chemistry of Biosystems, Institute of Physical Chemistry at the Heidelberg University.

There was a limitation in the surgery involving the transplant of cornea cells, corneal endothelium (the cells that partly make up the cornea) did not multiply in the recipient body as expected. This made the complete transplantation of donor corneas for a successful treatment.

A decade ago, a team of ophthalmologists at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine (KPUM) had a breakthrough in their researches as they successfully administered the culture of endothelial cells in a culture dish.

“These new cells could then be then transplanted into the eyes of patients and restore their corneas to health,” says KPUM’s Morio Ueno.

The method has been under testing for safety and accuracy for quite some time and has shown promise during its clinical trials. The recent research was aimed at further improving the process and removing the obstacles of cell quality assessment pre-injection and functionality confirmation post-surgery.

Before this research, a single test required around 100,000 cells and relied on subjective opinion and experience of seasoned professionals.

“Cells in tissue are constantly interacting with each other to maintain a steady-state, called homeostasis,” explains co-author of the study Akihisa Yamamoto.

Akihisa added that the concept of ‘colloid physics’ was employed to assess the cornea cells whereby interactions between the micro and nanoparticles was assessed and measured to reach a result.

“Calculating the interactions between all cells in the cornea allowed us to find the ‘spring constant,’ correlating with collective cell order.”

The study has made the assessment fairly simple. The cell quality and efficacy can be deduced through something as simple as ophthalmological inspection images of the patients’ eyes.

“Our results are thanks to the united effort of physicists and doctors engaged in regenerative medicine. We foresee that our ‘quantitative biomarker,’ and the concept behind it, will be applied to other epithelial cell cultures and tissues in the future.”, said Tanaka.

The research has opened up new avenues for medicine and detection and control of corneal damage before the severity of the matter increases.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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