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Study Finds Older Corneas Suitable for Transplantation

Tissue from people up to 75 had similar survival rates to that from younger donors

TUESDAY, April 1, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- People up to the age of 75 should be allowed to donate corneas for transplant, says a U.S. National Eye Institute-funded study.

The researchers found that tissue from donors aged 66 to 75 had the same five-year success rate (86 percent) as corneas from donors aged 12 to 65.

The research, coordinated by the Jaeb Center for Health Research in Tampa, Fla., included 1,101 patients, aged 40 to 80, enrolled by 105 surgeons at 80 sites. The patients were followed for five years after corneal transplant. A transplant was considered a failure if a repeat corneal transplant was needed or if the transplanted cornea was cloudy for at least three months.

The findings were published in the April issue of Ophthalmology.

This is "the largest study of its type on corneal transplantation ever done. Its size and five-year patient follow-up, along with a simple trial design, have provided us with clear and important insights into contemporary transplantation," study co-chairman Dr. Mark J. Mannis, professor and chairman of the department of ophthalmology at the University of California, Davis, said in a prepared statement.

In the United States, more than 33,000 corneal transplants are done each year. For the past 10 years, there's been an adequate supply of donor corneas, the study authors noted. However, supply could become a problem due to new U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations that require additional screening and testing of potential donors for contagious diseases, registration of eye banks, more detailed records and labels, and stricter quarantine procedures.

In addition, some surgeons are reluctant to use corneas from older people, so many eye banks only accept corneas from donors aged 65 or younger.

The study authors said the use of corneas from older donors could expand the donor pool by as much as 20 percent to 35 percent.

"Surgeons and patients now have scientific evidence that older donor corneas are suitable for transplantation," study co-chairman Dr. Edward J. Holland, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Cincinnati and director of the Cornea Service at the Cincinnati Eye Institute, said in a prepared statement. "Further, when corneas are readily available, transplant procedures can be scheduled more efficiently, allowing both surgeons and patients to plan for them."

The findings have come at a good time, according to Dr. Paul A. Sieving, director of the National Eye Institute.

"The pressure on eye banks to provide corneas is increasing. The results of this study will expand the available donor pool and should persuade surgeons to use corneas from older donors. These changes will greatly benefit the growing number of individuals who need corneal transplants," Sieving said in a prepared statement.

More information

The Eye Bank Association of America has more about corneal transplant.

SOURCE: U.S. National Eye Institutes, news release, April 1, 2008
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