NEI-supported researchers are always working to better understand, diagnose, and treat conditions that affect the cornea (the clear front layer of the eye). Learn about some recent developments in corneal research.
Corneal wound healing
NEI supports research to understand how the cornea naturally heals after injury, including how certain proteins help to close a layer of the cornea (called the epithelial layer) over the wound. This research could help find new treatments to fix damaged corneas.
While most corneal transplants are successful, organ rejection can cause some corneal transplants to fail. NEI supports research into the causes of rejection and new ways to prevent it. One goal is to find alternatives to the immunosuppressive medicines people have to take after transplant surgery, because these medicines can increase the risk of infection.
The need for corneal transplants is greater than the supply of donor corneas. NEI supports research to develop new types of artificial corneas to fill this need, including:
- An artificial cornea that combines live corneal cells with other materials
- A folding artificial cornea that doctors can inject into the eye through a very small opening
NEI supports research to improve early diagnosis and treatment of corneal dystrophies, like keratoconus and Fuchs’ dystrophy. Some recent research aims to:
- Diagnose keratoconus using a high-resolution ultrasound to measure the thickness of corneal layers
- Understand how genetic risk factors for keratoconus affect corneal cells, which could help find new treatments
- Treat keratoconus with corneal collagen cross-linking, a minimally invasive surgery that strengthens the cornea using UV light
- Find the genetic mutations associated with Fuchs’ dystrophy, which could help find new gene therapy treatments
Herpetic stromal keratitis caused by ocular herpes is the most common cause of corneal blindness in the developed world. One group of researchers is developing a vaccine to prevent herpes from infecting the cornea.
Stem cell research
NEI supports research to develop endothelial stem cell lines. This research aims to:
- Create stem cell lines that researchers can use to test new treatments in the lab
- Implant stem cells in the eye to grow new, healthy corneal tissue after the cornea is damaged