Each year, thousands of people have their eyesight saved by cornea transplants. To make sure that these transplanted corneas are healthy, eye banks usually require that donated corneas come from people in good health and no older than 65. But now a new study suggests that corneas from people as old as 75 can transplant as well as younger ones.
The cornea is a clear dome-shaped surface that covers and protects the front of the eye. When it becomes damaged or cloudy due to sickness or injury, it may need to be replaced with a donated cornea to help restore vision. Each year more than 33,000 cornea transplant surgeries are performed nationwide. Eye banks have generally had enough donated corneas to meet demand. But some health officials worry about a shortage of corneas in the future.
To see if older corneas might also make good transplants, NIH-funded scientists looked at more than 1,000 people who had cornea disease and needed transplants. Some of the donated corneas came from people who were between 12 and 65 years old. Others came from donors who were ages 66 to 75.
Five years after surgery, the researchers found that the success rates were the same—86%—for corneas from younger and older donors. If eye banks were to accept these older donated corneas, the donor pool could grow by as much as 20-35%, the scientists estimate.
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