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UAE’s first artificial cornea transplant done in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi - The operation takes a little over an hour and patients are usually able to leave the hospital on the same day.

By Saman Haziq

Published: Mon 28 Dec 2020, 1:11 PM

Last updated: Mon 28 Dec 2020, 1:13 PM

Surgeons at an Abu Dhabi hospital have performed the UAE’s first artificial cornea transplant to restore the eyesight of a patient — whose eye disease was so advanced that the usual transplant from a human donor would not work.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s specialists removed the patient’s diseased cornea and replaced it with a three-part prosthetic composed of a titanium backplate, a clear artificial cornea, and a ring of donor tissue to help secure it in place.

“Artificial corneal transplants are designed for people whose eye disease is so advanced, they would not be a candidate for a regular transplant. Using an artificial cornea means the body cannot attack or reject the transplant. The centre of the eye remains clear, giving the patient a new window to the world,” said Dr Samuel Navon, department chair of anterior segment, cornea and refractive disorders at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Eye Institute.

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The human tissue only surrounds the new, artificial cornea — so, if it is rejected by the body, it would not affect the patient’s restored vision, he said.

Traditional vs artificial

“The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped window that protects the eye and helps the lens focus light. This vital part of the eye can become clouded or damaged due to eye disease or injury, causing vision loss and even blindness. To overcome this, corneal transplants replace the damaged cornea with a tissue from a donor, restoring or improving vision significantly.”

While cornea transplants from a human donor have been used for several years, Dr Navon said that some patients with severe corneal or ocular surface disease are not candidates for this traditional approach, since a transplanted cornea would quickly succumb to disease or be rejected, offering no improvement for their condition.

The introduction of artificial corneal transplants, known as keratoprostheses, offers those patients fresh hope.

Made of modern materials rather than donor tissue, the artificial cornea cannot be affected by clouding or rejection. “We give patients a new cornea that won’t be rejected by the body. Surrounding that, we use human donor tissue that we almost expect to be rejected. However, this has no impact on the patient or their vision, it is simply there to make sure the new cornea stays in place,” Dr Navon explained.

Conditions that require a patient to undergo conventional cornea transplant include infections, injuries and keratoconus, a condition that is more common in the Gulf region than many other parts of the world, he added.

“However, when traditional transplants have failed, or if the ocular surface is also damaged, studies have shown better success with artificial cornea transplants,” he said.

Doctors at the hospital are expecting to do more artificial corneal transplants each year. The operation takes a little over an hour and patients are usually able to leave the hospital on the same day. Following the surgery, regular postoperative visits are required so doctors could check for possible complications and monitor the overall eye health.

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