The technique was developed by Dr. Roger F. Steinert, director of cornea, refractive and cataract surgery in UCI Health Sciences. Cornea transplants are performed on the "front window" of the eye, using living tissue from donors to replace corneas in which swelling, scars, distortions and degenerations are causing blindness. The work will be presented today at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology meeting, the largest eye research meeting in the world, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The work will lead to human application of the high-tech procedure. Clinical trials are expected to begin by this summer at UCI.
While most transplants are successful in providing the patient with a clear cornea, the majority of cornea transplants take more than six months to provide good vision, and even then strong glasses or contact lenses are needed. In addition, stitches usually need to stay in place for years, because the cornea is slow to heal and, as a result, the transplant remains a weak spot, vulnerable to injury for the rest of the patient's life. After the laser-based transplant, suture removal may be as soon as three months, and the strength of the repaired area may be nearly 10 times that of conventional transplants.
"By using the laser, a highly precise incision is created, resulting in a perfect match of the donor and the patient," said Steinert, a professor of ophthalmology in the School of Medicine. "In addition to precision that exceeds anything that can be duplicated by even a highly skilled surgeon, the laser can create complex shapes that are impossible to achieve with conventional surgery."