By Ingrid Wu
Ravenously sitting my dining room table, I immediately devour the platter, which composed of a baked salmon sprinkled with chopped onions and garnishes. Coincidentally, after dinner, my dad brought to my attention the National Geographic channel on TV explaining how a cornea substitute is derived from fish scale. Immediately, I poured myself with endless questions. “How could fish scales and the human cornea possibly share similar biological properties?” “How laborious would the manufacturing process be in order to transform fish scales into ocular tissues?”
The Human Cornea
In order to understand how the cornea substitute, also known as a Bicornea, works, we must first look at the human biological cornea. The human cornea is the transparent outermost tissue that covers the front portion of the eye. Its main function is to refract and bend light rays that enter the eye. Blindness due to corneal diseases can be a result of old age, infections or other diseases in the cornea. According to a research paper written by Nathan Congdon, “among persons older than 40 years in the United States…2.4 million people had low vision in 2002.” This comes to show that cornea substitutes used for transplantation is undeniably critical for visual rehabilitation.
Transforming scales into artificial Cornea
Bicornea, a prototype developed by Aeon Astron Europe is derived from Tilapia fish scales obtained from commercial dealers in Asia. After transfer to the laboratory, the fresh scales are soaked in distilled water to clean them. They are then decellularized. In other words, The fish scales are soaked in different chemical solutions such as acetic acid and nitric acid in order to isolate unwanted cells from the rest of the cells in the tissue. This is followed by thinning and softening procedures.
The cornea substitute is refined, and shaped into a circular contact lens-like model. The cornea substitutes were tested on rabbits, in order to ensure that it is safe for human usage. Interestingly, the fish scales are selectively picked from the fresh skin of the tilapia fishes!
Despite the pictures of eyes and fish scales that haunted me throughout my research, I found this topic to be extremely interesting. After all, regenerative Cornea substitutes derived from fish scales may become our primary future solution to restoring sight.
Of all things I would’ve thought could be modelled into a human cornea, fish scales would most definitely be at the bottom of my list! All of this show just how cool and unpredictable research and science are.