Scientists in California have expressed confidence that artificial corneas that can restore sight to at least 1 million people across the globe may soon be a reality.
Curtis Frank, Christopher Ta, David Myung, and Jennifer Cochran point out that disease or injury to the cornea - the clear tissue covering the front of the eye - is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.
Although treated in developed countries with transplants from donors, cornea transplants are unavailable in many parts of the world due to shortages of donors or to cultural or religious barriers.
The growing popularity of laser eye surgery also is reducing availability of corneas by making them unacceptable for donation, the researchers add.
The report describes new materials that already have made limited-use artificial corneas available, partially fulfilling a medical dream that dates to 1771.
More advanced materials, including polymer hydrogels similar to those used to make soft contact lenses, promise to so closely imitate human donor corneas that "these devices could eliminate the need for donor corneas altogether," the article notes.
The study is scheduled for the June 6 issue of ACS' Biotechnology Progress, a bi-monthly journal.