Repairing the eye’s ‘window’

Dr Karl Brown is working to create a laboratory-grown corneal transplant.


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Since completing his PhD on how to engineer corneal tissue in 2015, Dr Karl Brown continues to work with the CERA team to make laboratory-grown corneal transplants a reality.

Damage to the cornea, the clear window at the front of the eye, is a leading cause of blindness throughout the world, affecting more than 12 million people.

Damaged corneas often cannot repair themselves, but are successfully replaced by a healthy donor cornea transplant.

In countries such as Australia, corneal transplants are common and effective, and there are sufficient donor corneas available from eye tissue banks such as the Lions Eye Bank.

But there is a shortage of donor tissue in many countries around the world. For every 70 people who need a cornea transplant only one sight restoring donor cornea is available.

In the laboratory, Dr Brown is working on growing a patient’s own cells for transplantation.

The next stage is to produce enough cornea cells from one donor to potentially treat a large number of people and help meet the global shortage of transplant tissue. Using technology to reprogram stem cells so they become corneal cells-could create even more cells and corneal tissues for transplant.

In the lab, it’s a constant test of ideas. “If you discover something you weren’t expecting it leads to other avenues of investigation which can be productive,” he says. “In some ways, this is the most exciting time, and there’s that new puzzle to figure out.”

Dr Brown finds regenerative medicine rewarding and creative and is grateful for a four-year DHB Foundation fellowship, and the many individual donations from supporters.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say this support is vital,” says Dr Brown.

“It means we can focus on developing these therapies which will have an incredible impact on people’s quality of life.”

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