Right now, patients with keratoconus, a degenerative disease of the cornea that affects one in every 2,000 Americans, don’t have very many treatment options. They can get contact lenses to keep up with their declining vision, or eventually, may require a corneal transplant if they become intolerant to contact lens.
“We need to find ways to slow this disease so it doesn’t get to that,” said Stephen Orlin, MD, a cornea specialist and refractive surgeon at the Scheie Eye Institute at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “And that’s why, after hearing about a procedure that could slow the disease a few years ago, I wanted to bring this new clinical trial to Penn—to help move it closer to a reality for patients.”
Developed over 10 years ago overseas, but not yet approved in the U.S., the procedure works to strengthen the chemical bonds in the cornea with riboflavin (vitamin B2) and ultraviolet light. Over the course of a year in the trial, different intensities of light are applied to the cornea after it has been saturated with the dye for different lengths of time. The idea is to preserve the vision these patients already have and stop the progression of the disease.
Scheie is one of several institutions around the country recruiting patients in the trial that will test the safety and efficacy of the minimally-invasive procedure, known as corneal collagen crosslinking (KXL), for not only keratoconus, but also corneal ectasia, a complication caused by LASIK surgery.
Nine patients have already been enrolled at Scheie.
Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease in which the cornea thins and bulges into a cone-like shape. It is the most common ectatic corneal degeneration in the United States, and its severity ranges. Some lose their vision over time but manage it with corrective contact lenses, while others are worse off, and end up needing a corneal transplant. In that surgical procedure, a damaged or diseased cornea is replaced by donated corneal tissue in its entirety or in part.