Cornea Donation

Cornea Donation

The gift of sight is precious. More than 3,600 people have their sight restored by cornea transplants in the UK every year.

If you haven't already done so, please register with the NHS organ donor register now.

  • Cornea transplants are successful sight-saving operations, with 93% of grafts functioning after one year. By five years, 72% of grafts are still functioning and many will continue for many more years after that

  • The first successful cornea transplant was reported in Olmütz, Moravia, (now the Czech Republic) on 7 December 1905

  • Around 2,000 people donate their corneas after their death, but there is still a shortage in the UK – more people could benefit from a sight-saving transplants if more corneas were available

Cornea being prepared for implant

  • More than 44,000 cornea transplants have been recorded on the National Transplant Database since the Corneal Transplant Service began in 1983
  • Both old and young patients benefit from cornea transplants. The youngest person to receive a cornea transplant was just a few days old. The oldest was 104
  • The oldest recorded cornea donor was 103
  • People of all ages can donate corneas and about 65% of cornea-only donors are over 60 years old
  • Corneas from very young donors (under three years) are needed very rarely
  • Over half (52%) of all cornea transplant recipients are aged 60-89; nearly a quarter are patients in their 70s; and 3% of recipients are under 19 years old
  • The Corneal Transplant Service (CTS) was launched to help distribute corneas around the country so that all patients who needed a transplant could benefit
  • 90% of transplants use corneas stored in the CTS eye banks in Bristol and Manchester, which use special techniques to store the corneas for up to four weeks. Corneas are sent from other eye banks and hospitals throughout the UK for storage and subsequent distribution to more than 200 cornea transplant units
  • Many more people could be cornea donors than general organ donors. Unlike most other organs, corneas can be donated up to 24 hours after death. You do not have to die in hospital to donate your corneas but the retrieval service is usually provided by a major hospital
  • There are now eight hospitals around the country with full time eye retrieval staff funded by UK Transplant, aiming to maintain or increase supplies of corneas for transplant

About the cornea

  • The cornea is the clear tissue at the front of the eye that lets in light and helps focus it on the retina so that we can see
  • Disease or injury can make the cornea cloudy or distorted in shape, causing loss of vision
  • A cornea transplant replaces diseased corneal tissue with a disc of healthy tissue from a donor
  • The procedure is straightforward and usually takes about an hour to complete
  • There is no upper age limit to cornea donation – many successful transplants have been performed with corneas from donors in their 90s
  • The most common reason for cornea transplantation in younger people is a condition called keratoconus where the cornea becomes misshapen and cone-shaped
  • In older people, age-related or inherited conditions may lead to cloudiness of the cornea
  • Transplants are also needed to remove scarring caused by herpes, the cold sore virus, which can infect the cornea

For more information on cornea and organ donation please visit the NHS Organ Donor website.

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