New Technology Contributes to Rise in Transplantable Corneas
Eye Donors in Colorado and Wyoming Provide for More Sight-Restorative Transplants
The number of people who received sight-restoring transplants from an eye donor in Colorado or Wyoming rose 10 percent in 2014. While the number of actual eye donors rose only two percent from the prior year to 2,070 donors, the number of transplants they provided rose to 2,297 due to a number of factors, including new surgical techniques and more refined recovery processes.
The Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank said one new technology that contributed to the increase allows the eye bank to transplant corneas that were not usable just a few years ago. Robert Austin, a spokesperson for the eye bank, said a new surgical technique called Descemet’s Stripping Endothelial Kertatoplasty (DSEK) has become more popular. “Before the DSEK procedure came along, corneas from donors who had undergone LASIK surgery to correct their vision could not be transplanted because the laser changed the outer structure of the cornea,” Austin said, “however, we’re now able to split that cornea lengthwise and transplant just the back side, which hasn’t been touched by the laser. That means the millions of people who’ve had LASIK surgery can still restore sight in others by becoming eye, organ and tissue donors.”
The splitting technique developed at the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank separates a transplant layer as thin as 40 microns. To put that into perspective, a human hair averages about 100 microns in diameter.
The cornea above has been split along it length. the back half, which is only 65 microns can restore sight to someone with endothelial disease or damage in their own cornea.
The resulting transplant (at left) keeps the integrity of the cornea intact as only the back half is transplanted, which contains the important endothelial cells that keep a cornea clear. the procedure allows donor corneas that had LASIK on the outer side of the cornea to be used to restore sight in another.
Other changes have contributed to the boost in transplant rates as well. The eye bank changed the way it communicates with coroners, who have the authority to delay or deny a donation from happening if the coroner feels it would interfere with determining a cause of death. “We are slowly seeing fewer delays from a coroner’s involvement because of that more direct communication,” Austin said, “we’ve also begun to focus attention on the science of the cornea and what it can and cannot tell you about a cause of death.”
The eye bank also refined its method for surgically recovering corneas to reduce trauma to the delicate tissue, which is only about the size of a dime.
Seventy percent of eye donors in Colorado and Wyoming come through the states’ donor registries. The donor designation rate was at an all-time high this past year, with 67.7% of Colorado’s and 59.58% of Wyoming’s licensed drivers and ID card holders on the registry.
Other types of donation were up as well. According to Donor Alliance, the federally designated, non-profit organ procurement organization and American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) accredited tissue bank serving Colorado and most of Wyoming, a record 1,590 generous tissue donors provided enough tissue to potentially heal or save the lives of 159,000 people in 2014. Additionally, 109 organ donors from the two states helped to save 330 lives across the country.
The Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank is the nonprofit agency responsible for the recovery and transplantation of donated eye tissues in Colorado and all but three counties of Wyoming.