A Vision for Preservation

Friday, December 4, 2009

The eyes might be the windows to the soul, but the cornea – made primarily of clear, dense, connective tissue – is the window of the eye. When that window gets damaged, vision can be impaired, and if the damage is severe enough, the only solution might be corneal replacement.

 The eyes might be the windows to the soul, but the cornea – made primarily of clear, dense, connective tissue – is the window of the eye. When that window gets damaged, vision can be impaired, and if the damage is severe enough, the only solution might be corneal replacement. Cornea transplants are among the most common human tissue-replacement procedures, and they have a high rate of success. But eye banks can only store corneas for a short period of time.

That’s where the work of Dr. Joe Huff ’77, assistant professor of biology, comes in. Huff, along with his students, is conducting ongoing research into corneal preservation.

“Currently, a cornea is only good for about five days when stored in an eye bank. Our aim is to extend that to about a week or two weeks,” Huff said.

Working with corneal tissue from cattle, Huff and his students have performed experiments on what types of solutions work best for preserving corneas.

One solution that has shown promise is polyglucosamine, which Huff said is favorable because of its low toxicity and its approval in many uses by the Food and Drug Administration.

“If we could extend the preservation time to two weeks, we could greatly increase the supply of corneas available in eye banks that could be transplanted,” Huff said.

More than 50,000 people have their sight restored each year in the United States through cornea transplants, the association says, and more than 41,000 people donate corneas annually.

Huff says that the work he and his students are doing, along with eye research being conducted by two other professors in the biology department, can make a meaningful contribution to the, well, vision of the university as being a key research institution.

“Each of us promotes student research at the undergraduate and graduate level, giving our department international recognition in the world of science,” Huff said.