WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Corneas taken from donors up to age 75 work as well in transplants as those from younger donors, meaning the pool of donors should be expanded, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday.
Many U.S. eye banks have set 65 as the age ceiling for cornea donors because some surgeons refuse to use corneas from older donors. Corneal tissue for transplant comes from a recently dead person whose family has donated it.
The study involved about 1,100 patients around the United States between ages 40 and 80 who needed corneal transplants. One group received tissue from donors ages 66 to 75, while another group received tissue from donors ages 12 to 65.
The patients were tracked for five years. The success rate for transplants in both groups was identical, at 86 percent. A transplant was considered a failure if a repeat transplant was needed or if the cornea was cloudy for at least three months.
The cornea is the transparent, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye, providing protection and helping to focus light entering the eye.
“We now have scientific evidence showing that older donors can be used reliably in corneal transplantation,” said Dr. Edward Holland of the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Eye Institute, who helped lead the study published in the journal Ophthalmology.
“We believe this will expand the available donor pool for many eye banks and persuade surgeons to use corneas from older donors. This could expand the possible donor pool by 20 to 35 percent,” Holland said in a conference call with reporters.
More than 33,000 corneal transplants are performed annually in the United States. The availability of donor corneas has been adequate for the past decade in the United States. But experts say a decrease in the supply could result from new U.S. government regulations including additional screening and testing of potential donors for contagious diseases.
“Internationally, there’s a great shortage of donor corneas. Donor corneas that are not used in the United States can be used internationally,” Holland said.
Holland, who also heads the Eye Bank Association of America, said it will be up to eye banks around the country and individual surgeons to decide to expand the pool.
Corneal transplantation is recommended for people with corneal failure after other eye surgery such as cataract surgery, scarring of the cornea from infections or injuries, hereditary corneal failure and other conditions.
Dr. Mark Mannis of the University of California-Davis, who also took part in the study, said there had been “long-standing myths” among doctors and patients that corneas from younger donors were better than older tissue.
“Indeed, patients were looking for younger tissue and surgeons were anxious to have only younger tissue — while there was clearly a lack of any evidence in the literature to support the superiority of younger tissue,” Mannis said.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Vicki Allen