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Cornea Donor's Age Not a Big Factor, Researchers Say

FRIDAY, Nov. 15, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- If you need a corneal transplant to improve your vision, don't worry too much about the donor's age, a new study says.

According to new research, corneas from 71-year-old donors are as likely to be as healthy as those from donors half that age a decade after their transplant.

The cornea, the outermost layer of the eye, is the clear window that allows light into the eye and helps focus it. Damage to the cornea caused by injuries or infections, inherited conditions, or complications of cataract surgery can lead to blurred vision. A corneal transplant is performed when vision problems or discomfort from corneal damage cannot be corrected with lenses or medication.

The new study included 663 people who received corneal transplants. After 10 years, the overall transplant success rate held at 75 percent for corneas from donors aged 34 to 71. But differences were noted when the researchers looked at smaller age groups. Success rates for corneas from the youngest pool -- donors age 12 to 33 -- were 96 percent, but only 62 percent for donors aged 72 to 75.

The study began in 2000, and at that time, many surgeons would not accept corneas from donors over 65 years of age, the researchers noted in a news release from the U.S. National Eye Institute (NEI).

The findings from the U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded study were published online Nov. 15 in the journal Ophthalmology. The study was presented the same day at a meeting of the Eye Bank Association of America and the Cornea Society in New Orleans.

"Our study supports continued expansion of the corneal donor pool beyond age 65," study co-chair Dr. Edward Holland, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Cincinnati, said in a NEI news release.

"We found that transplant success rates were similar across a broad range of donor ages," added Holland, who is also director of the Cornea Service at the Cincinnati Eye Institute.

Maryann Redford, a clinical research program director at NEI, pointed out that the supply of corneas does not meet the demand internationally. The need for corneal transplants is expected to grow along with the aging population, she said in the news release. The study "was designed to address whether making use of donor corneas across the full range of ages available might help solve this problem," Redford added.

More information

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

SOURCE: U.S. National Eye Institute, news release, Nov. 15, 2013