Have you ever wondered how it is that your eyes help you to see the world? And you may wonder, too, just exactly what it is you’re trying to protect when it comes to saving your vision. Well — here’s a quick primer on how it all works.
Light rays enter your eye through a hole called the “pupil.” Once there, the light travels through a clear layer in your eyes called the “cornea” and a disc called the “lens.” These two together bend the light rays, so that they form an image on your retina, which is found at the back of your eye. Your lens also has the important job of turning images upside down.
Your retina contains light-sensitive receptors called “rods” and “cones.” Rods and cones convert images into nerve impulses, which travel to your brain along your optic nerve. Your brain then interprets these impulses as an image, which it turns the right way up again. And that, in a nutshell, is how you see.
For some, eye problems can start in the cornea. The cornea is like a transparent dome and sits in front of the colored part of your eye. It is a very important part of the eye, but you can hardly see it because it’s made of clear tissue. Like clear glass, the cornea gives your eye a clear window to view the world through. But, because of its placement, the cornea can become damaged through injury. Infections and other illnesses can also damage the cornea.
Many people with damaged corneas wait to receive a transplant from someone who has died. Waiting can be a lengthy process, and not all patients who need a transplant receive one.
Well — here is some hopeful news from a team of researchers in Sweden doing some groundbreaking work: they report that they’ve successfully implanted “biosynthetic” corneas in 10 patients, potentially paving the way for more accessible treatment for those with cornea-related vision problems.
According to the researchers, the patients’ own cells and nerves grew back, and there was an overall improvement in vision.
For the study, the Swedish researcher team tested corneal implants that are biosynthetic — meaning they’re created with the help of living tissues. For this study, the corneas were produced with the help of human collagen — a kind of protein — that’s grown in yeast. The biosynthetic corneas were then placed into the eyes of 10 patients after the diseased corneas were removed.
The research team was surprised when they discovered that vision improved from about 20/400 to 20/100 in six patients. This meant these patients could see objects four times farther away than before the operation!
None of the patients reported any pain or discomfort, and there were no signs that their bodies tried to reject the corneas — a common risk that people face when they get transplanted organs.
The study has been called cutting-edge and does seem to bring an exciting new option for those experiencing visions problems because of a damaged cornea.