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

Common reasons for a cornea transplant

  • Disease or injury can make the cornea cloudy or distorted, causing vision loss
  • Cornea becomes scarred after infections such as corneal ulcer
  • Keratoconus in young people
  • Age or inherited conditions may lead to cloudiness of the cornea in older people
  • Scarring caused by herpes, the cold sore virus

Functions of the cornea

  • with the sclera or white of your eye, it protects your eyes from dirt, germs, and other particles
  • filters and screens out some of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) waves
  • contributes between 65-75 percent of your eye's focusing power

 Facts about the cornea and corneal transplants

  • Over 2,500 people have their sight restored by cornea transplants in the UK every year
  • 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
  • More than 56,000 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
  • 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
  • 90% of transplants use corneas stored in the Corneal Transplant Service 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 organ donors. Unlike solid 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 major hospitals

The corneal preparation room at Bristol Eye Hospital

The corneal preparation room in Bristol Eye Hospital

How to donate your cornea

NHS organ donation card

National Eye Research Centre is proud to have funded the establishment of the UK Corneal Transplant Service and ongoing research into improved treatments for corneal disease and methods of corneal transplantation. Please help us fund more research to combat eye disease, sight loss and blindness by making a donation now.