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Published on November 18, 2013

Research Results Help Improve Outlook for People in Need of Cornea Transplants

Dean Foundation Investigator plays key role in federally funded study

Ten years after a transplant, a cornea from a 71-year-old donor is likely to remain as healthy as a cornea from a donor half that age according to the results of a research study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Results from the study which were released Friday, could lead to shorter wait times and improved accessibility for those in need of cornea transplants.  

“This study shows that most people’s corneas are healthy for a lifetime, and using corneas from older donors works well in most situations,” says Christopher Croasdale, MD, a Davis Duehr Dean Ophthalmologist  and Dean Foundation Investigator, who led the only Wisconsin research site included in the study. “This study provides valuable information to cornea transplant specialists, and their patients.  It demonstrated that the age of the donor of the cornea is usually not a critical factor in the long term success of the transplant surgery.”

A corneal transplant is performed when decreased vision or discomfort from corneal damage cannot be corrected with lenses or medication. Prior to the release of these findings, surgeons generally sought out the youngest corneal tissue available when performing transplants, but young donor corneas are relatively rare. In 2012, corneal donors under age 31 comprised less than 10 percent of the U.S. donor pool.

“In time, we hope the study will have a lasting impact on the practice of corneal transplant surgery,” says Mark Mannis, MD, chair of ophthalmology at the University of California, Davis, and co-chair of the study. “Although the results suggest that age-matching may be appropriate for the very youngest donors and patients, we do not think it is necessary in the vast majority of cases.”

“We have a high acceptance of tissue and organ donation by our population and this translates into many families making a decision to donate on behalf of their loved one,” according to Dr. Croasdale. “With the data from this study, eye banks and surgeons can be confident that tissue from older donors is healthy and has appropriate longevity.”