250 corneal transplants are performed in New Zealand each year. More are needed but, as with most organ transplants, there are not enough donors. MacDiarmid Institute research into biomaterials offers a potential solution.
MacDiarmid Institute Associate Investigator, Dr Laura Domigan, University of Auckland, is working with ophthalmic surgeons to learn all she can about eye anatomy. She is researching ways to create biomaterials that are strong enough to replace or repair corneal tissue, degrade at the same rate as the host cells and are also accepted by the surrounding cells.
The main protein component of eye lenses are crystallins, which are packed in such as way as to be transparent and diffract light. These crystallins can be produced in the lab but not in sufficient volumes. Instead, the team is extracting them from Hoki fish eyes, a waste by-product.
It is hoped that the research will result in synthetic and/or naturally derived substrates that can positively influence future cell growth of corneal tissue.
The dream is to construct and repair what nature has taken billions of years to design.Dr Laura Domigan MacDiarmid Institute Associate Investigator University of Auckland