China’s largest eye hospital, the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, is working to help many blind patients see through cornea transplants using bio-engineered tissue that originally came from pigs.
CCTV’s Wu Lei reports from Guangzhou province.
The engineered cornea — the transparent film covering the outside of the eye — shorten the waiting time for transplants to as short as one month, and provide more options for blind people in China and around the world.
About four million people in China are blind due to cornea diseases. While cornea transplants can help them, there are few eye donors. The waiting list is incredibly long.
“Statistics for 2015 showed that there were only 5,000 cornea transplant cases in China. That means there were only 5,000 donors, a significant shortfall from the millions who need new corneas,” Zhongshan Professor Yuan Jin said. “For blind patients suitable for the operation, the waiting time can be anything from 6 months to over a year.”
Since December 2015, Jin and his colleagues have completed 15 cornea transplant cases using the bio-engineered cornea.
Zhou Wanzuo had a cornea transplant on his left eye in April.
“Before the operation, I couldn’t see anything with my left eye. But now, I have regained my sight,” Zhou said.
Yuan said China is the in the world to transplant a pig’s cornea into human eyes.
The eyes are collected from pigs and researchers select appropriate corneas that are then processed so that they are ready for transplantation.
“Our company has invested 1 billion yuan in over 10 years of research and development,” CEO of China Regenerative Medicine International Ltd. Shao Zhengkang said. “During this period, we tried many animals including pigs, cows, sheep and dogs. After the tests, we found the bio-mechanical properties of corneas from humans and pigs are very similar.”
Dozens of hospitals have started using these bio-engineered corneas. So far around 70 patients in China have recovered their eyesight with the help of these corneas.
Yuan said one of the major hurdles now is the limited number of doctors who can carry out the operation. They have organized special sessions and about 100 doctors across the country have received training and hands-on experience.