Dr. Jay Pepose is a short man with a reddish beard that is turning gray. He is the head of the Pepose vision institute here in St. Louis and one of the foremost cornea surgeons in the country. He also does cataract surgery and laser surgery to correct vision.
Even though he does a lot of vision-correcting laser surgery, he still wears glasses. Maybe there is something about the laser surgery that he isn’t telling us? He has also done the surgery for a lot of celebrities all across the country. I have went to him on several occasions and found him very personable and competent.
I’m sure Dr. Pepose is delighted to know that an artificial cornea has been proven effective in several research trials. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “An experimental synthetic cornea implanted in 10 patients may be a potential alternative to cadaver corneas for curing vision loss due to corneal inflammation and scarring, researchers said Wednesday.”
One of the reasons that I went to see Dr. Pepose is to get treated for a lacerated cornea. It’s no fun, believe me. Fortunately, I didn’t have much scarring from my injury and fully recovered.
Currently, eye surgeons use corneas that are harvested from cadavers. But using these corneas requires that the patient be given anti-rejection drugs and there is a risk of infection. Plastic corneas have been tried but they haven’t worked very well.
The new synthetic corneas are made from collagen, a natural connective tissue that is found in the body. It is grown in a yeast culture. The collagen corneas act as a graft to allow the patient’s own body to produce cells that form the new cornea. These cells are some of the fastest growing in the body. Any damage to the cornea is very painful because there are so many nerve endings there, but it usually heals very fast barring any complications.
But most cornea damage is caused by disease. An estimated 5 million people around the world suffer from a disease called trachoma, a disease caused by a bacterial infection. The rest of the 2 million cases are cause by actual trauma to the eye.
The study is the first one to prove that a synthetic cornea can be incorporated into the eye and grow cells without the fear of rejection like a transplanted one. Since these cells aren’t rejected by the body, maybe this type of surgery can be applied to other areas of the body that have been damaged.