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New Artificial Corneas Advance to Animal Testing

Joachim Storsberg (Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft)

Joachim Storsberg (Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft)

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research in Potsdam, Germany are developing new artificial corneas that can treat a wider range of eye conditions than current devices. The team led by Fraunhofer’s Joachim Storsberg (pictured left) is collaborating with the Aachen Centre of Technology Transfer, Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, and the Cologne-Merheim Ophthalmic Clinic.

Two artificial corneas are being developed as an alternative to human donor corneas, for use in cases of trauma, absent limbal stem cells, or eye diseases. Human donor corneas are in short supply and in some cases, patients cannot tolerate a human replacement cornea. In Europe, the waiting list for corneal transplants numbers some 40,000.

Storsberg was instrumental in an earlier project to develop an artificial cornea for patients with clouded vision, for which he received the 2010 Joseph-von-Fraunhofer Prize. His scientific specialty is the development of new biocompatible materials.

ArtCornea, as the first new device is called, is made from a polymer with the ability to absorb water in larger quantities. Storsberg and colleagues added a new surface coating that anchors more solidly in the host tissue, with a new chemically altered edge that encourages local cell growth.

ArtCornea also has a larger optical surface area to improve light penetration compared to earlier versions, which is considered a significant achievement. “Once ArtCornea is in place,” says Storsberg, “it is hardly visible, except perhaps for a few stitches. It’s also easy to implant and doesn’t provoke any immune response.”

A second artificial cornea, called ACTO-TexKpro, has a chemically and biologically inert base material, which is also compatible with human tissue. The research team coated the original synthetic tissue base material, polyvinylidene difluoride, with a reactive molecule. This coating allows the patient’s cornea to bond naturally with the edge of the implant, while the implant’s inner optics, made of silicon, remain free of cells and clear.

The researchers say ACTO-TexKpro is suitable as a preliminary treatment in cases where the cornea has been destroyed as a consequence of chronic inflammation, accident, corrosion, or burns.

Both the ArtCornea and ACTO-TexKpro have been tested in the lab, as well as with rabbits. After six months, the implanted corneas have been accepted by the rabbits without irritation, and are securely anchored within the eye. The tests show the animals well tolerate the artificial corneas. Clinical trials with humans are expected to begin soon at the Cologne-Merheim Ophthalmic Clinic.

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