He recovered the sight in one eye after five years of blindness thanks to surgery. “Miracle of science” at the Sant’Orsola in Bologna where Giancarla, 76 years old, suffering from a serious eye disease managed to recover six tenths in one eye thanks to a half-hour operation, never performed before in Italy, one hundredth case in the world.
It was treated not a corneal transplant as a donor, but of the installation of a sort of “small contact lens“, an endothelial prosthesis in polymeric material, similar to plastic adhered to the inner wall of the cornea. A technique invented in Israel by Professor Ofer Dafna whose father studied and graduated in Medicine at the University of Bologna. The operation it was performed in August by Luigi Fontana, director of Ophthalmology at the Irccs Policlinico Sant’Orsola.
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Failed two transplants, the new surgery is less invasive
The woman, who suffers from endothelial decompensation for which she had lost her sight 5 years ago, had already undergone two transplants with donor cells in recent years, both of which failed. «The corneal endothelium is a membrane that performs a fundamental task for maintaining the transparency of the cornea and therefore for seeing correctly – explains Fontana – for this reason in patients suffering from its functioning deficit, the donor transplant until today was the only intervention able to restore the visual function. With an operation that uses a prosthesis in polymeric material, the added value lies in the lower percentage of rejection and in the minimal invasiveness».
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“Hope for those who can’t have a transplant”
Corneal transplantation is the most widespread operation, over five thousand are performed in Italy every year. The techniques have evolved over time: from the implantation of a whole donor cornea to the more recent lamellar technique with the replacement of only the diseased layers of cornea. However, there are conditions in which donor transplantation is impossible or has a short duration, due to rejection or the presence of other eye diseases.
The results of the first intervention at Sant’Orsola and the subsequent ones confirm the potential of using an artificial material to treat some forms of corneal opacification. “We are facing a result of extraordinary importance – comments Raffaele Donini, regional councilor for health policies – not only for the health of Emilia-Romagna, but for the entire Italian and international scientific community”.
An artificial cornea saved 20 patients from blindness
Which, also last August, had celebrated the implantation of a new artificial cornea made of collagen obtained from pig skin, allowing 20 patients with keratoconus, a degenerative disease of the cornea, to obtain an important improvement in visual function. Fourteen of them, who were legally blind before undergoing the surgery, recovered their sight, resulting in three cases with perfect vision of 10/10. The artificial cornea was developed by Swedish researchers from Linkoping University and the company LinkoCare Life Sciences whose results were illustrated in Nature Biotechnology.
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