Corneal transplant restores vision for 78-year-old

The procedure, which offers hope to thousands of Canadians with vision loss, brought the man sight after 10 years.

Dave Yasvinski 4 minute read January 26, 2021
close up of eye

Corneal transplant offers hope to thousands of Canadians suffering from vision loss. GETTY

Doctors were almost as emotional as their patient after an artificial cornea transplant successfully restored vision to a 78-year-old man who had been living in the dark for a decade.

The “relatively simple” procedure involved replacing one of the man’s deformed corneas with a synthetic device created by CorNeat Vision earlier this month. The device, known as the CorNeat KPro, is able to integrate with ocular tissue through a non-degradable synthetic nano-tissue that is inserted beneath the conjunctiva of the eye.

It was clear doctors had achieved something monumental the day after the operation when their patient opened his eyes and immediately recognized his family. “The surgical procedure was simple and the result exceeded all our expectations,” said Irit Bahar, performing surgeon and head of the ophthalmology department at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel, according to the Ophthalmology Times. “The moment we took off the bandages was emotional and significant. Moments like these are the fulfillment of our calling as doctors.

“We are proud of being at the forefront of this exciting and meaningful project which will undoubtedly impact the lives of millions.”

CorNeat received the green light to conduct clinical trials on 10 patients with corneal blindness in 2020, said Gilad Litvin, CorNeat Vision’s co-founder, CMO and the inventor of the implant itself. He said being present for the procedure was a surreal experience. “After years of hard work, seeing a colleague implant the CorNeat KPro with ease and witnessing a fellow human being regain his sight the following day was electrifying and emotionally moving, there were a lot of tears in the room.”

In addition to the nine other patients in line for the procedure in Israel, CorNeat has its eyes focused firmly on the future with two more locations set to open in Canada soon. Another six sites, destined for France, the U.S. and the Netherlands, are currently in various stages of approval. After initially tending to those most in need, the company hopes the procedure will become more widely available.

“Our first trial includes blind patients who are not suitable candidates for, or have failed one or more corneal transplantations,” said Almog Aley-Raz, CorNeat Vision’s co-founder, CEO and vice-president of research and development. “Given the visual performance of our device, the expected healing time and retention and the fact that it cannot carry disease, we plan to initiate a second study later this year with broader indications to approve our artificial cornea as a first line treatment, displacing the use of donor tissue used in full thickness corneal transplantations.”

Witnessing a fellow human being regain his sight the following day was electrifying and emotionally moving, there were a lot of tears in the room

The news should come as a welcome relief to thousands of Canadians, some of whom have endured painful vision loss while waiting as long as two years for a cornea transplant, according to CBC News. Corneal tissue has even gone to waste in the country due to what some experts describe as a lack of cooperation that has resulted in a system where some provinces use different health organizations than others to provide the necessary accreditation on donated tissue.

“In Canada, the Canadian blood system, there’s all accountability and accreditation in place so that if I get a pint of blood from Calgary, I know it’s the same as I get from Vancouver,” said Paul Dubord, a surgeon and World Health Organization corneal expert. “But in tissue transplantation, that doesn’t exist, so a cornea that’s collected in Quebec, we might not know.”

While other countries, such as the U.S., have virtually eliminated corneal blindness largely because of a lack of waiting time, Dubord said Canada is still struggling to streamline its process. “There is no reason why there should be corneal blindness in Canada,” he said. “We have the ability, we have all the elements in place to eliminate corneal blindness in Canada, and all those elements need to be working in concert to achieve that goal.”

Dave Yasvinski is a writer



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