Millions of people suffering from blindness and eye disease around the world could benefit from a new research collaboration between Australian universities and research institutions.
The new consortium BIENCO will develop bioengineered eye tissue to treat corneal blindness.
Around 23 million people globally – almost the size of the entire Australian population – are affected by corneal disease and blindness.
But only one in 70 patients can access donor corneas to treat their condition.
At the moment, corneal transplants rely upon corneal tissue from human donors after death, leading to an acute global shortage, says BIENCO project lead Professor Gerard Sutton, a corneal specialist at the University of Sydney and Co-Medical Director at the NSW Tissue Bank.
The aim of BIENCO is to address this shortage by bioengineering individually tailored corneas, as well as partial thickness grafts for transplant, which will reduce the amount of donor tissue required.
Professor Gordon Wallace, from the University of Wollongong, said the project would significantly improve cost effectiveness and sustainability of corneal transplants in Australia and would increase global access to vision-restoring corneal transplant surgery.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who launched the initiative on Thursday said BIENCO “will help millions of patients here and across the globe to access treatment that restores vision and improves their quality of life”.
As well as helping vision-restoring transplant surgery, the project will also boost early treatment to prevent blindness and speed up recovery from laser eye surgery.
Corneal blindness is the third most common cause of blindness in the world.
BIENCO is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, University of Melbourne, Queensland University of Technology, Centre for Eye Research Australia, and the NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service
It has received grant funding from the federal government through the Frontier Health and Medical Research Initiative.