The Cure to Blindness For Millions

Australian ophthalmologist and biotech entrepreneur Professor Gerard Sutton has a vision of the future where curing blindness worldwide could be achieved simply through cell replication and 3D printing technology.

Professor Sutton, co-founder of Bienco, explained that his company has developed both a physical and intellectual product that could soon revolutionize cornea transplants by enabling mass production of natural corneas. Cornea transplantation, a common method to restore sight, traditionally depends on donor availability and is technically complex. The cornea acts as the eye’s clear “windscreen,” and it being damaged or diseased is a significant portion of non-hereditary blindness around the world.

Reflecting on a poignant experience, Sutton recounted a 2004 trip to Myanmar aimed at alleviating blindness caused by the country’s civil war. He brought four donated corneas and arrived to find a thousand people waiting for treatment, having learned of his visit through local media. From this overwhelming crowd, he could only choose four individuals for transplants, prioritizing young patients. A similar overwhelming situation during a subsequent visit to Cambodia cemented his resolve to find an innovative solution.

Professor Damien Harkin from Queensland University of Technology, part of the Bienco team, highlighted the dire shortage of donor corneas, with one available for every seventy people needing a transplant. Bienco’s approach could extend one donor cornea to treat up to thirty individuals through lab cultivation.

Bienco’s synthetic corneas are crafted from collagen—a protein found in hair, skin, nails, and connective tissue—which typically forms opaque structures. The challenge was to engineer transparent collagen suitable for corneal transplants.

After successfully managing this, the team turned their focus on developing a way of layering this collagen to form a transplantable cornea structure

Sutton was able to secured AUD$35 million in funding from the Medical Research Future Fund, established by Australia’s treasurer, propelling Bienco towards its ambitious goal. Sutton is optimistic that within three to four years they will reach their goal.

You can find the full interview here. (listen or read)

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