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Artifical cornea lets woman blind 20 years see

A severe allergic reaction to a medication robbed Elma Phifer of her vision two decades ago when she was 39. The reaction scarred her corneas and reduced the ability of her eyes to soothe their damaged surfaces by remaining moist.

She came to rely upon family and friends to help her do many of the activities people with normal vision sometimes take for granted. Now, twenty years and several life milestones later, Elma is able to see again, thanks to advances in ophthalmology research.

Physicians at Duke University Eye Center and Harvard have been monitoring her closely following the implantation of an artificial cornea, or keratoprosthesis, into one of her eyes -- restoring her sight in that eye and ultimately helping her regain much of her independence. Phifer is one of several hundred patients nationwide who have received such artificial corneas, which have revolutionized the treatment and care of patients like her.

"I was blind for twenty years in both my eyes," Phifer says. "A regular cornea wouldn't work because of the severity of damage to my corneas. But now my life is more like normal and I can do more things on my own and finally read the things that I want to read."

While many people with cornea damage are eligible to become candidates for standard human cornea transplants, some cannot tolerate donor tissue. The problem is not necessarily tissue rejection ? although in some cases it is -- but rather progressive growth of blood vessels and scar tissue throughout an implanted natural cornea, according to researchers. The new cornea eventually becomes as opaque as the original.

"The cornea is usually just like a clear window in the eye for people to see through, but sometimes the cornea becomes opacified and people can no longer see," said Natalie Afshari, M.D., an ophthalmologist specializing in cornea and refractive care at Duke University Eye Center and one of the few surgeons performing the implantation of artificial
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Source:Duke University Medical Center


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