Corneal transplants using tissue from older donors have similar success rates to those from younger donors, according to five-year data from a national study that included the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah.

The study found that cornea survival for transplants performed using tissue from donors ages 66 to 75 was similar to results when donors were 12 to 65, according to the study published in the journal Ophthalmology. The 80-center study was funded by the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

That's good news in terms of supply to meet what's expected to be growing need for cornea transplants, said Dr. Mark Mifflin, associate professor of cornea and external disease at the U., and principal investigator for Utah's part of the study. He's also medical director of the Utah Lions Eye Bank. "There's a lot of pressure on the supply of donors in the country," caused by factors such as an increase in refractive surgery, which may preclude later cornea donation, and stricter Food and Drug Administration regulations that may impact supply while demand is growing, Mifflin said.

Cornea transplants increased 16 percent between 2006 and 2007, from 33,674 to 39,391, according to eye bank figures.

Certain diseases, such as Fuch's endothelial dystrophy, and factors such as cornea decompensation related to cataract surgery also increase the number of people requiring transplant. Utah has a high incidence of keratoconus, which may necessitate transplant later.

About 1,100 participants were recruited for the study to look at tissue survival based on donor age.

"Corneas are delicate and the tissue needs to be of excellent quality, preserved well. The study basically tried to match the quality in the two age groups," Mifflin said.

Many eye surgeons have shied away from use of corneas from older donors, believing those of a younger donor will be more healthy and viable, Mifflin said. The study did show a slight trend favoring tissue from very young donors, those under 30. But when all ages under 65 were compared to results from the donor group 66 to 75, the results were similar, he said.

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