Hyderabad, Jan 19 (Agencies): Artificial corneas could become a reality in the next 4-5 years with a premier research organisation here saying that it should be possible to achieve a breakthrough in developing them and put an end to reliance on eye donations.

Director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Mohan Rao said two layers of the cornea have already been developed and the remaining part, which is crux of the cornea, will take substantial time and the success of the project may see an end of eye donation era in the country.

"We believe it should be possible. My rough estimate is in 4-5 years. If this project is successful there is no question of eye donation. We will be able to make artificial corneas in large numbers," Rao said. The project which could be major achievement in medical history, and if successful may become boon for millions of cataract patients, waiting for cornea donors for replacement, he said.
   
Presently, doctors are using an intra-ocular lens (an implanted lens) in the eye, usually replacing the existing crystalline lens which has been clouded over by a cataract. It usually consists of a small plastic lens with plastic side struts to hold the lens in place.

Explaining the project, Rao said they cannot make cornea in plastic due to its shape. We can develop endothelium cell and artificially produce the whole cornea in a laboratory. The cornea is multi-layered.So actually we have to build a composite structure. This is  not an easy thing. Everybody in the world is trying to see if it is possible," he said. Rao also said they are working with LV Prasad Eye Institute, a city-based eye research centre and hospital on the project. LV Prasad has already been successfully using the
first cornea layer developed by CCMB.
   
The CCMB is also engaged in stem cell research in which stem cells are produced in large numbers and can be used in therapeutic usage which is at the moment not possible. "There is possibility that the stem cells can be used for any person and taken from anyone. In that case also, we will need large quantities. We are developing nano technology approaches for this purpose," the CCMB chief said. He said so far there is no such system where stem cells can be preserved for a longer period.