For an estimated 10 million people worldwide who are blind due to cornea damage or disease, there may be hope in the form of an innovative artificial cornea design that reportedly overcomes the limitations of existing artificial corneas.

Existing cornea implants need to be made larger to prevent excess corneal tissue from growing over them and impairing patients' vision, according to John Huang, an assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the Yale University of Medicine. But their large size makes them difficult to stitch and hold them together using the traditional attachment method, using sutures. There's always the chance that a surgical wound will reopen or become inflamed, Huang noted.

To solve the problem, researchers at the Fraunhoufer Institute in Munich, Germany, developed a protein-coated polymer. The polymer used is commercially available and repels water, so is unlikely to swell. The polymer also prohibits cell growth, so natural tissue will not cloud it over.

The protein coated on the outer rim of the cornea attracts existing corneal cells. The implant can be made small enough to be sutured directly to the eye, without a layer of donor tissue, which is often in short supply. "This is a huge advantage," Huang said.

The firm connection created by directly attaching the corneal implant prevents the infections that cause problems in other implants.

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