Electron beam-irradiated donor cornea for on-demand lenticule implantation to treat corneal diseases and refractive error.
The cornea is the major contributor to the refractive power of the eye, and corneal diseases are a leading cause of reversible blindness. The main treatment for advanced corneal disease is keratoplasty: allograft transplantation of the cornea. Examples include lenticule implantation to treat corneal disorders (e.g. keratoconus) or correct refractive errors. These procedures are limited by the shelf-life of the corneal tissue, which must be discarded within 2-4 weeks. Electron-beam irradiation is an emerging sterilisation technique, which extends this shelf life to 2 years. Here, we produced lenticules from fresh and electron-beam (E-beam) irradiated corneas to establish a new source of tissue for lenticule implantation. In vitro, in vivo, and ex vivo experiments were conducted to compare fresh and E-beam-irradiated lenticules. Results were similar in terms of cutting accuracy, ultrastructure, optical transparency, ease of extraction and transplantation, resilience to mechanical handling, biocompatibility, and post-transplant wound healing process. Two main differences were noted. First, ∼59% reduction of glycosaminoglycans resulted in greater compression of E-beam-irradiated lenticules post-transplant, likely due to reduced corneal hydration-this appeared to affect keratometry after implantation. Cutting a thicker lenticule would be required to ameliorate the difference in refraction. Second, E-beam-sterilised lenticules exhibited lower Young's modulus which may indicate greater care with handling, although no damage or perforation was caused in our procedures. In summary, E-beam-irradiated corneas are a viable source of tissue for stromal lenticules, and may facilitate on-demand lenticule implantation to treat a wide range of corneal diseases. Our study suggested that its applications in human patients are warranted. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Corneal blindness affects over six million patients worldwide. For patients requiring corneal transplantation, current cadaver-based procedures are limited by the short shelf-life of donor tissue. Electron-beam (E-beam) sterilisation extends this shelf-life from weeks to years but there are few published studies of its use. We demonstrated that E-beam-irradiated corneas are a viable source of lenticules for implantation. We conducted in vitro, in vivo, and ex vivo comparisons of E-beam and fresh corneal lenticules. The only differences exhibited by E-beam-treated lenticules were reduced expression of glycosaminoglycans, resulting in greater tissue compression and lower refraction suggesting that a thicker cut is required to achieve the same optical and refractive outcome; and lower Young's modulus indicating extra care with handling.