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DMEK Breakthrough Breakthrough for Cornea Transplant Recipients

INDIANAPOLIS—October 21, 2011—The Cornea Research Foundation of America today announced an important breakthrough expected to significantly reduce organ rejection from 12 percent to less than 1 percent.

Each year approximately 40,000 Americans need a cornea transplant to restore vision, so they can return to work, support a family, and resume essential daily activities such as driving and reading. These patients are eager to preserve the precious gift of sight they received from a generous family who lost a loved one, and this breakthrough should significantly improve their chances. The cornea is about the thickness of a credit card and is comprised of three distinct layers. Although corneal problems are usually localized to just one or two layers, the traditional approach was to replace them all.

Dr. Francis Price, Jr., founder of the Cornea Research Foundation, has helped pioneer targeted cornea transplant techniques that replace only the diseased portion of the cornea, leaving healthy layers intact. Only the ultra-thin cell layer lining the inner surface of the cornea is diseased in about half the patients who need a cornea transplant. According to Dr. Price, “Replacement of the inner cell layer with a single cell layer from a donor cornea (a technique known as DMEK) provides much better and faster visual recovery than earlier methods.”

The principal reason cornea transplants fail is because the recipient’s body sometimes recognizes the donor tissue as foreign and mounts an attack against it. Today Dr. Marianne Price, Executive Director of the Cornea Research Foundation, reported at the joint Cornea Society and Eye Bank Association of America Scientific Symposium, held in Orlando FL, that single-layer DMEK grafts are 15- to 20-times less likely to be rejected than earlier techniques that include two or more layers of the cornea. According to Dr. Price, “99% of our DMEK recipients remain rejection-free at two years and beyond. Having a transplant technique that can better elude rejection is a huge breakthrough for cornea transplant recipients.”

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