MADISON (WKOW) -- A recent study on corneal transplants shows that using corneas from older donors works just as well as using corneas from younger ones in most cases.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study had researchers track cornea transplant patients for 10 years. They found that a decade after transplant, a cornea from a donor older than 65 is likely to remain as healthy as a cornea from a honor half that age.
"Many people intuitively think that if you're going to have a cornea donated, it should be by someone younger; however, if your corneas are healthy they should last your whole life. There were people in both camps who were surprised by the results," said Dr. Chris Croasdale, a Davis Duehr Dean Ophthalmologist and Dean Foundation Investigator,.
Dr. Croasdale, who was involved in the study, says that the study was originally slated for five years, but when the results came back favoring corneas of all ages the NIH extended it to see how the cornea transplants would fare after 10 years.
"Because of this long unanswered question, there's always been pressure on the eye banks to provide tissue from younger donors. As our population ages, more and more people are having transplants," Croasdale said.
He says transplant patients usually suffer from an age-related eye disease called Fuchs Dystrophy, which can start effecting people in their 50s and 60s. Symptoms include vision cloudiness, and can feel like driving through the mist without wipers on, according to Croasdale.
Because people are living longer, Croasdale says that more and more people are needing cornea transplants.
"So there has been concern that we may not be able to provide tissue to everyone who may need surgery. This study gives us very definite evidence that the majority of donors are able to provide healthy tissue for the majority of recipients," Croasdale said. "There's definitely hope."
Eye banks are aware of the study results; however, it may take more time for surgeons to learn of the new donor possibilities, according to Croasdale.
"In time, we hope the study will have a lasting impact on the practice of corneal transplant surgery," said Dr. Mark Mannis, chair of ophthalmology at the University of California, Davis, and co-chair of the study.
Many people will be able to be cornea donors, depending on their eye health. "The most important step is to start talking with your family about being a donor so that when you pass away the family will be approached to give final consent," Croasdale said.
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