Millions of people with blindness and eye disease around the world could benefit from a new research collaboration between Australian universities and research institutes.
The new BIENCO consortium will develop eye tissues resulting from bioengineering to treat corneal blindness.
Around 23 million people worldwide – almost the size of the entire Australian population – are affected by corneal disease and blindness.
But only one in 70 patients can access donor corneas to treat their disease.
Right now, corneal transplants rely on corneal tissue from human donors after death, resulting in a severe global shortage, says Professor Gerard Sutton, BIENCO project leader, cornea specialist at the University from Sydney and Co-Medical Director at NSW Tissue Bank.
BIENCO’s goal is to address this shortage by bioengineering tailor-made corneas, as well as partial thickness grafts for transplantation, which will reduce the amount of donor tissue needed.
Professor Gordon Wallace, University of Wollongong, said the project will dramatically improve the cost-effectiveness and sustainability of corneal transplants in Australia and increase global access to cornea transplant surgery that restores vision.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who launched the initiative Thursday, said BIENCO “will help millions of patients here and around the world access treatment that restores vision and improves their quality of life.” .
In addition to helping with transplant surgery to restore vision, the project will also boost early treatment to prevent blindness and speed recovery after laser eye surgery.
Corneal blindness is the third most common cause of blindness worldwide.
BIENCO is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, the University of Wollongong, the University of Melbourne, the Queensland University of Technology, the Center for Eye Research Australia and the NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service
He has received grants from the federal government under the Frontier Health and Medical Research Initiative.