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The cornea is the clear part of the eye in front of the iris and pupil. Treatment of a diseased or damaged cornea is typically done through corneal grafting or corneal transplants (replacing damaged tissue with donated tissue). Advances in microscope technology have enabled surgeons to get a better view of the surgical field during surgery, while advances in materials science have enabled them to use sutures finer than a human hair. Each of these advancements has improved the outcomes of corneal surgery. Exciting research is also underway to grow corneal tissue in the laboratory from stem cells.
Artificial corneal transplants are a newly emerging treatment option. Some patients don't respond favorably to donated corneal tissue but have shown great results working with artificial corneas. Mercy Clinic has been involved in the research and clinical trials of artificial corneas.
Another key player in the success of corneal transplants is eye banks. These organizations are located throughout the world to coordinate the distribution of donated corneas to surgeons, as well as providing eyes for research. Advancements in the removal and storage of donated tissue have allowed for improved outcomes. Mercy Clinic works with the Heartland Lions Eye Bank and performs the most cornea transplants in the region.
Cross-linking is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure that combines the use of UVA light and riboflavin eye drops to add stiffness to corneas that have been weakened by disease or refractive surgery. Cross-linking, which has been performed in Europe since 2003, is considered the standard of care around the world for keratoconus and corneal ectasia following refractive surgery.