A project funded through the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) is developing bioengineered eye tissue to treat corneal blindness in a world-first solution to a global problem.
Sydney’s Professor Gerard Sutton is leading the national consortium of clinical, scientific and governance experts to develop the technology and address corneal disease – the third most common cause of blindness among all age groups and the leading cause of unilateral blindness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
The project is called: ‘Australian Corneal Bioengineering: Novel Therapies to Fight Blindness’ and received $999,224. It includes the University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, University of Melbourne, Queensland University of Technology, Centre for Eye Research Australia, and the NSW Organ & Tissue Donation Service.
Sutton, a corneal specialist and co-medical director of the NSW Tissue Bank, said that although access to services was an ongoing challenge, developing customised, easy-to-apply therapies was a realistic solution for at-risk populations, including Indigenous Australians.
“These novel treatments address various stages of corneal disease, minimising dependency on donor tissue and will have a significant and direct impact on blindness in the world,” he said.
The national consortium will develop corneal replacement tissue that will provide multiple, customised therapies, with an emphasis on transportable treatments with extended shelf-life for use in remote communities.
“The success of this program will help millions of patients both nationally and globally to restore vision, improving their quality of life and reducing the social and economic burden associated with blindness,” Sutton said.
Corneal transplantation currently relies upon deceased human donor corneal tissue.
However, an acute global shortage continues to prevent access to treatment. Globally, donor corneas are available for only 1 in 70 patients, with 53% of the world’s population unable to access this tissue, according to the NSW Organ & Tissue Donation Service.
The project is being funded through the MRFF 2021 Frontier Health and Medical Research Initiative. Bioengineered corneal tissue is developed by using generously donated human tissue. Australians are encouraged to register as organ and tissue donors at donatelife.gov.au.