Eyes to the Future

BIENCO Group Photo November 2023Each year, more than 2000 Australians need a corneal transplant to restore their vision, yet many go without because of a shortage of donor corneas.

To help tackle this issue, a group of Australian researchers known as BIENCO, including the Organ & Tissue Donation Service, is on track to manufacture the first bioengineered corneas in Sydney.

BIENCO will work with Australian and international tissue banks to manufacture and ship bioengineered corneas across Australia and globally, preventing countless people from becoming needlessly blind.

The group’s pioneering work, which includes clinical, scientific and governance experts from the University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, University of Melbourne, Queensland University of Technology and the Centre for Eye Research Australia has just been bolstered by a $35 million grant from the Federal Government.

“The eye is such a small organ, but it plays such a big role in a person’s life,” says Danielle Fisher, the General Manager of the NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service.

“Severe vision impairment and blindness has a profound impact on people’s lives, including reduced quality of life, costs of medical care, long term care and those associated with lost productivity.

“Restoring sight not only benefits an individual, it benefits their family and community,” Ms Fisher said. “It allows them to go back to their work, studies and the community activities that they enjoy. It also reduces the burden on those caring for them.”

Corneal disease is the fourth most common form of blindness in the world, affecting an estimated 22 million people. More than 12.7 million are waiting for a corneal transplant.

“There aren’t enough donors globally to address the need for transplant. So, with a lot of hard work and combined expertise, we are on track to develop the world’s first full-thickness bio-engineered cornea.”