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NEI Support for Corneal Transplantation

Corneal transplants are among the most common and successful transplantation procedures in medicine. Each year approximately 33,000 Americans undergo corneal transplants to replace diseased and injured corneas, the normally crystal clear tissue that protects the eye and helps focus light on the retina. Corneal diseases can cause severe vision impairment. They can also be very painful, making them the most frequent eye-related cause of emergency room visits. For these reasons, corneal transplants are critical to restoring vision and alleviating pain. The failure rate for uncomplicated, or low-risk, corneal grafts, is less than 10 percent. However, in a small subset of high risk patients, where the corneal graft bed is inflamed, failure rates are greater than 50 percent. The National Eye Institute (NEI) is working to understand and overcome rejection in corneal transplantation.

Donor tissue is key to the continued availability of this sight-restoring procedure. However, many eye banks refrain from harvesting tissue from donors over age 65 because of uncertainty about the integrity of older corneas. This practice has been called into question due to concern for the available supply of donor tissue. Meeting the tissue demand for transplantation is always challenging but newly instituted U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations to further safeguard transplant recipients, and the common use of LASIK surgery to correct refractive errors-which renders corneal tissue unusable for transplantation-could significantly limit future tissue supplies.

The NEI supports a range of grants to improve outcomes for corneal transplantation:

Research accomplishments in corneal transplantation include:

Last Reviewed: December 2011



Department of Health and Human Services NIH, the National Institutes of Health USA.gov