The first veterinary corneal implant procedure in the US by a researcher at the Iowa State University has enabled a nearly blind dog to see better.
In the surgery, Sinisa Grozdanic, an assistant professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, restored sight to 7-year-old Dixie, a Mountain Cur breed owned by Brett Williams of Runnells.
"We are excited for Dixie. She was our patient for such a long time and nothing really worked. She was gradually going down visually and we were finally able to do something to definitely improve her quality of life," said Grozdanic.
Dixie, who had gained weight due to inactivity from her blindness, has shed seven pounds since the surgery.
"She used to walk right behind me when we'd go for a walk. She couldn't see and was scared. Now she wants to run ahead," said Williams.
Dixie's sight was restored through a two-step surgical procedure that involves cutting into the eye to take out the cloudy cornea and inserting a permanent, plastic cornea.
The new cornea is sutured, or stitched, into place. The entire eye including the new, plastic cornea is then covered with tissue from the dog to help the eye heal from the surgery. Because of the tissue and the bandages, the dog cannot see after this procedure.
After several weeks, the bandages are removed and a hole is cut into the tissue exposing the new, plastic cornea.
In addition to being the first such procedure in North America, it was one of only a few in the world. The technology is still being developed.
A German company called Acrivet is developing the plastic corneas. When Grozdanic met a company representative at a conference a few years ago, he became interested in the possibilities of doing the procedure on canine patients at Iowa State.
"These are special prototypes. They are not made routinely, and are not yet available commercially," said Joyce Wickham from Acrivet's U.S.-based office in Salt Lake City.
The new cornea is working for Dixie, but she has very little peripheral vision, Grozdanic said.
"She is visual. For Dixie, it's like looking through a peephole," he said.
One of the tests doctors used to see how Dixie's vision is progressing is done by simply dropping a cotton ball in front of her.
If she follows the ball with her head and eyes, they know she can see it. When they preformed the test in front of her owner and she tracked the ball.
While Grozdanic recognizes that the procedure was noteworthy because it was the first, he is most excited about the improvement in Dixie's quality of life.
"It's not a good thing because it's the first one in North America. That's really secondary," he said.
"We are excited because of Dixie. She was our patient for such a long time and nothing really worked. It is interesting from the research side of it, but if you can fix something that is thought to be unfixable, it gives you a huge amount of pleasure.
"I think all of us here feel that way. The biggest reward comes from the patient. It's great to see a completely transformed dog, and an owner who is pleased," he added.
According to Grozdanic, corneal transplants -- using live corneal tissue from other dogs -- have a low success rate because of the high likelihood of rejection.