Health & Science

In Singapore, eye tissue can be stored for future use

A company in Singapore can store eye tissue to reuse it later when vision degrades getting older even if the technology is not ready for clinical use yet. It might also prove to be an alternative in some cases of cornea transplantation from dead donors.

Surgery removing eye tissue from cornea
Eye tissue removed from cornea could be stored and used to cure presbyopia on the same person later in life | © OptiQ Asia

In Singapore, a group specialized in cryopreservation wants clients to store corneal tissues in a cryogenic bank for years, the Channel News Asia explains. Your own tissue would then later be used to correct your presbyopia as you get older. Cryogenics conservation is already used in sperm or egg banks for instance.

Presbyopia usually appears when people reach their 40s, losing their ability to focus and correctly see up-close objects. This results in people holding their papers at arm’s length so that they can read the text for instance.

Most people can wear eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct presbyopia but laser surgery is another option.

Storing eye tissue for solving a future presbyopia

And the Singapore National Eye Centre thinks it can improve someone’s degrading vision by using cornea transplantation. Two professors from the SNEC research want to re-implant one’s own cornea to correct presbyopia. They have performed two transplants so far.

Only the Singapore National Eye Centre currently has the right to perform implantation of corneal lenticules in the country and clinical validation is still ongoing.

Nevertheless, although the technology is not yet clinically available, a company, in which the two SNEC professors are involved, created in March and licensed by the Singapore ministry of Health, already offers cryogenic conversation.

They would store corneal lenticules to later correct someone’s deflecting vision.

As a consequence, when someone needs corneal tissue to correct presbyopia, material will already be available. It could also correct farsightedness (hyperopia) or some eye diseases affecting the structure of the cornea like the keratoconus, the company suggests.

Diagram of an eye
With presbyopia, the lens becomes less efficient, but changing the shape of cornea could correct the condition | © Holly Fischer

Potential replacement for cornea transplant from dead donors?

Such autologous transplantation could therefore have the potential to replace some cornea transplants from dead donors in the future. For instance, cornea transplantation may become eventually necessary for an eye disease like the keratoconus, a rare abnormal shape of cornea.

Currently, most cornea transplants comes from dead donors.

Cornea transplant is the second most common human transplantation after blood donation and have been performed for decades. However, cornea donations suffer from an heterogeneous supply between countries.

At the moment, the eye tissue – cornea lenticules – potentially used as a transplant comes from previous eye operations. When someone wants to correct myopia and astigmatism, a surgeon may remove tissue in order to reshape cornea, which is a different method from Lasik, a more common laser surgery technique.

The removed eye tissue was usually thrown away.

But in this case, cornea lenticules would be removed for improving someone’s vision at a relatively young age, and then be implanted back for correcting deficiencies appearing later in life. Autologous transplant also benefits from fewer risks of rejection, and could be used for other people.

Other techniques supplementing cornea transplants from dead donors currently exist. Research is conducted on medicines as alternatives to transplantation. Artificial corneas are also used, notably in the United States, but research is still ongoing to make it more efficient on the long term.

A human cornea transplant is nonetheless the best performing method and will still be in the years to come.

Storing parts of your eye comes with a cost. Between S$4,500 (US $3,300) and S$5,220 (US $3,900) for 20 years, according to CNA.

Read more about Singapore

Worried about 'lao hua' later in life? You can now store eye tissues for the future, Channel News Asia, October 2021, Free access

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