A 78-year-old man with almost complete blindness has been the first recipient to receive an artificial cornea implant, restoring his vision to the point of recognizing loved ones and identifying individual numbers.
Performed by doctors in Beilinson Hospital, Israel, the implantation was successful despite the patient’s highly damaged eyes from multiple previous surgeries. The patient lost his sight a decade ago as a result of edema and background diseases, rendering him unable to see anything but blurred shapes. Donor cornea surgeries were attempted but failed to return his sight whilst exposing him to infection and a lower chance of success next time.
After the removal of his bandages, the patient saw an immediate massive improvement in his vision. He could identify individual fingers being held up, numbers from a vision chart despite not being able to see the largest number before the surgery, and could identify his daughter whom he had not seen for years.
"Unveiling this first implanted eye and being in that room, in that moment, was surreal. After years of hard work, seeing a colleague implant the CorNeat KPro with ease and witnessing a fellow human being regain his sight the following day was electrifying and emotionally moving, there were a lot of tears in the room,” said Dr Gilad Litvin, creator of CorNeat KPro, in a statement. You can watch the emotional video here.
Corneal diseases are the second leading cause of blindness in most developing world countries. The World Health Organization estimates that around 2 million people a year suffer from corneal blindness.
Eyes that have gone through significant trauma become increasingly difficult to transplant a donor cornea, with scarred and deformed corneas that are difficult to replace. The artificial alternative cannot carry disease, so should it integrate successfully into the patient's eye, it will be a safer alternative to donor surgery.
"The surgical procedure was straight forward and the result exceeded all of our expectations. The moment we took off the bandages was an emotional and significant moment. Moments like these are the fulfillment of our calling as doctors. We are proud of being at the forefront of this exciting and meaningful project which will undoubtedly impact the lives of millions," said Professor Irit Bahar, director of the Opthalmology Department at the Rabin Medical Center and surgeon for the operation.
The CorNeat KPro cornea was approved for implantation back in June 2020, beginning a multi-national clinical trial involving 10 patients across the globe. The patients are all either unsuitable for donor corneal transplants, or have had previous multiple surgery failures. Further studies are now planned as a result of the successful transplantation, with the hope that the artificial cornea will be a strong consideration as the first treatment for corneally blind people.