Fourteen people who were blind or very close to blindness have had some or all of their eyesight regained thanks to pig skin.
Researchers at Linköping University and LinkoCare Life Sciences, both in Sweden, were able to give them sight using an eye implant from medical-grade collagen derived from pig skin. The implant was given to individuals who have diseased corneas, the transparent layer of the eye.
In a small pilot study of 20 patients, researchers found implants restored corneal thickness and curvature to normal levels, and vision outcomes were as good as if human-donated corneas had been used.
Scientists immediately saw positive results when observing the 14 patients in India and Iran who received the bioengineered corneas. Patients who had been blind fully obtained their sight after the procedure, and three of them had 20/20 vision.
The study said that bioengineering implantable tissue was an advancement that could go on to help the global issue of blindness.
According to a 2016 study, 12.7 million people are on waitlists for cornea transplants, and one out of 70 people is able to get the surgery. CBS News reported that most of those who need the surgery require a human donation and live in low- and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Before the bioengineering advancement, doctors typically had to replace an entire cornea and sew it into place. With the new method, doctors can insert the implant into an already existing cornea, which makes the surgery less invasive.
The study said the new corneas don’t require pathogen testing if there are viral outbreaks, and the bioengineered corneas can be stored for longer than organ donations, which makes them more accessible to people.
“The operations were free from complications; the tissue healed fast; and an eight-week treatment with immunosuppressive eye drops was enough to prevent rejection of the implant,” a press release for the study said. “With conventional cornea transplants, medicine must be taken for several years. The patients were followed for two years, and no complications were noted during that time.”