A new technique being used in some types of cornea transplants means a shorter recovery time for patients and may lead to even better vision after surgery. The technique, known as Descemet's Stripping Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSEK), allows surgeons to remove a much thinner layer of the patient's cornea compared with older methods of transplantation. Standard cornea transplants involve removal of the full thickness of the patient's cornea and replacement with full thickness donor tissue. In the newer method, surgeons remove only the diseased layer of cells at the back of the cornea and replace it with a similar amount of donor tissue. Doing so helps to retain the structural integrity and mechanical strength of the eye, and typically means a shorter recovery period for the patient.
"Although successful cornea transplant surgeries are considered routine even with older surgical techniques, our patients experience a more rapid recovery of their vision after the DSEK procedure," said Noaman Sanni, MD, Ophthalmologist and Eye Surgeon at SMC. "With the older, full thickness transplant techniques, the eye is never structurally as strong as it was before the surgery. The shorter recovery time and the retained integrity of the eye mean that my patients will be able to live a fuller life and resume regular activities with much fewer worries."
In a DSEK procedure, the surgeon removes the inner-most layer of the endothelium along with Descemet's membrane. That section is then replaced with a delicate healthy layer of donated human cornea tissue. Using specialized tools, the new tissue is positioned into the cornea. The new tissue heals without sutures.
The most common reasons people need cornea transplants are Fuchs' dystrophy, traumatic injury to the eye area, previous eye surgery and diseases that affect the endothelium. Diseases and injuries that destroy the endothelium can lead to blindness, at which time a cornea transplant is the only treatment that can restore vision.
According to Carlson, a patient can regain useful vision within two weeks and driving vision within two to three months following the DSEK procedure, as opposed to six and 12 months, respectively, with the older method.