The cell structures that exist within the eye are so complicated that scientists are still amazed by them today. Although the eyes are quite stunning, they are also very exposed and very susceptible to damage and disease. Indeed, many people are living with some kind of eye problem, whether it is near-sightedness, far-sightedness, or glaucoma. Of course, the worst thing to happen to the eyes is if the optical cells just stopped working altogether. When this occurs a person goes blind, and the majesty of sight is blown out forever.
Or is it gone forever? A group of dedicated researches in Australia are actually working right now to combat one of the most common causes of blindness. They believe that their new insights into cornea regeneration might be able to help people with cornea problems. But first, to understand how this therapy works, we have to understand a bit about the biology of an eye.
The cornea is a very thin layer of cells located at the front of the eye. The cells here are tasked with both filtering and focusing the light that is being projected upon it. Right behind the cornea is the iris, which is the part of the eye that has colour. In the middle of the iris is the pupil. The pupil's job is to limit just how much light actually hits the internal lens of the eye. The pupil does this by either expanding or contracting in accordance with the light it receives.
After all of this, the light keeps moving through the eye's lens and then through the vitreous body. Finally, it ends of at the retina, which is another layer of cells that transport these electric signals to the brain. These signals are sent up through the optic nerve to the brain. Finally, the magnificent brain unscrambles all of this electrical data and, presto, we can see.
As you can see from this short description of how the eyes work, the cornea has a major role to play. It has such a major role that the World Health Organization felt it necessary to tell the world that the third leading risk for blindness is corneal opacities.
Corneal opacities occur when the endothelial cells, which keep the cornea at the right level of moisture by removing excess water, stop working. This could be due to many things, including aging, illness, or injury, but it always leads to blindness if it is not treated right away. The problem with endothelial cells is that they cannot come back once they are gone. The only way scientists have been able to help people with severe corneal opacities is with cornea transplants, but these procedures are very rare and very dangerous. There simply are not enough corneas available for doctors to use, and the procedure itself is so dangerous because the eye is so delicate.
Now you can understand how amazing the work scientists at the University of Melbourne, Australia. They were actually able to take just a few cells from people's cornea and have them regenerate in a synthetic hydrogel film. These corneal cells have been shown to restore the balance of liquid in the eyes of other animals without any side effects. While these results have been promising so far, we will have to wait till 2017 for scientists to test out these lab grown corneas on humans.
This exciting new technology for staving off corneal opacities is one of many new innovations set to revolutionize the eye care of tomorrow. The researchers in Australia only hope that the corneal implants will someday make corneal opacities a thing of the past for sufferers all around the world.