Health: But the blind shall see...

British surgeons are restoring eyesight to the blind, by using a controversial new technique that involves grafting pieces of amniotic membrane on to damaged eyes.

The experimental method can benefit patients suffering from "ocular surface failure" which may occur as a result of disease, chemical injury or burns, and may cause blindness and severe pain.

A small amount of the amniotic membrane that surrounds a baby in the womb is collected after a Caesarean delivery, and used to reverse damage. Mr Sheraz Daya, at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, West Sussex, has performed about 40 amniotic membrane transplants. "I've used it in patients with persistent epithelial [surface layer] defects and to restore the surface of the eye after a chemical injury or burn, and it works very well in these situations. The membrane certainly changes things, and we still don't fully understand why."

The technique is employed when the cornea, which is the transparent membrane covering the eyeball, loses its ability to make its own transparent skin. "In these patients, the inside of the eye is fine and the lens is clear. But because the limbal stem cells [responsible for regenerating the cornea] have been killed off by disease or chemical injury, ulcers develop on the cornea and they either won't heal, or they heal as an opaque membrane," says Mr Daya. "It's rather like having a room with a piece of paper over the window so that you can't see out. What we do when we use an amniotic graft is to peel the piece of paper away from the front of the window and replace it with a transparent membrane that allows the sight to return."

Dr Charlie Hunt, a research and development scientist, helped the North London Tissue Bank to set up the collection of "amnions" (amniotic membranes) last year. It has since supplied more than 30 grafts to seven centres in the UK.

"We are collecting between four and six amnions per year," says Dr Hunt. "One amnion can provide material for about 50 grafts, but the first six months after collection are a `quarantine period' - we have to wait six months from the time of donation to re-test the donor for HIV."

"When we need an amnion, the cord bank nurses find a suitable donor who is having an elective Caesarean and obtain consent. We carry out an extensive medical history and serological tests on the donor, and microbiological tests on the tissue to make sure it is not carrying any diseases."

Incredibly, the procedure was first attempted in the late Forties, when a London eye surgeon, Dr Sorsby, carried out 58 operations and wrote two papers on his work. However, it was not tried again until 1993. It is now increasingly popular. Since last spring, the consultant ophthalmologists Mr John Dart, from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, and Mr Francisco Figueiredo, from the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, have each performed half a dozen amniotic membrane transplants. A handful of other UK surgeons have also used the technique. In many cases, the only alternatives for the patients were accepting loss of sight or a corneal transplant, which has a high rejection rate.

Amaya Teague, 29, from Mid Glamorgan, was born with a condition that caused her corneas to deteriorate and her eyesight to worsen. In 1994, her eyesight was so poor that she could see fingers held up in front of her face, but very little else. She had a number of operations to try to thicken the cornea, including two amniotic membrane transplants. However, the operations were unable to offer a lasting solution. A third attempt in November last year proved more successful. Amaya was rushed to Queen Victoria Hospital, after the cornea in her left eye suddenly perforated. "I was looking at a chair and I could see it disappearing," she recalls.

Sheraz Daya performed a amniotic membrane transplant. "This time, her eye quietened down straight after surgery and she grew new epithelium, and it has been stable ever since," he says. "I've never seen her look so good. I have no idea why it worked the third time when it didn't before - we don't really know enough about how it works."

Amaya is delighted with the result. "Before, it was like looking through a misty window. Now everything is much clearer," she says. "It's given me more confidence in getting around. I can watch television, though I have to sit close to the screen, and I can even read some print in magazines without using a magnifier."

ef

Arts and Entertainment
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore