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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 05:25 GMT 06:25 UK
Artificial cornea project funded
Image of an eye
Corneal damage affects millions worldwide
A research project to develop the first artificial cornea has been granted almost 430,000 in funding.

Scientists from Lancaster and Sheffield universities hope to develop the corneas from a similar material that soft contact lenses are made from.

Dr Nigel Fullwood, from Lancaster's Biological Science department, want to develop the lenses within five years.

The research could potentially benefit the tens of millions of people who suffer from cornea disease worldwide.

Around half that number have no access to conventional transplantation.

Our ultimate goal is always that it will result in the improvement or restoration of sight
Dr Nigel Fullwood
In the UK, sufferers can wait several months before a donor becomes available, and in some countries people are reluctant to donate their body parts.

The money will be split equally between researchers at the two universities, as well as a collaborator at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, surgeon Mr Arum Brahma.

"The idea of an artificial cornea is not a new one," said Dr Fullwood.

"People have been trying for the last 10 to 15 years to produce one that's as good as a conventional transplant, but without success.

"We are using a new approach. The cornea will be made from a uniquely formulated hydrogel - a polymer which has a high water content - the sort of material that soft contact lenses are made from.

"We will modify it so that it can be inserted in the same way as a conventional cornea transplant and will become fully integrated into the eye.

"Our ultimate goal is always that it will result in the improvement or restoration of sight."

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