People least likely to donate corneas, research reports

Research by Fight for Sight and Optegra Eye Health Care explores why people are less likely to donate their corneas, despite cornea transplant shortages in the UK

Elizabeth Keell

Despite research reporting that people in the UK value their sight above any other sense, a new study has found that they are also the organ that people are the least likely to donate.

In light of these views, unsurprisingly, there is currently a shortage of corneas available for transplant purposes. As a result, specialist eye hospital group Optegra Eye Health Care teamed up with eye research charity Fight for Sight to find better understand the organ donation habits of the British public.

Performing a survey of 2016 UK adults, the organisations report that 64% stated they would not donate their eyes for transplant. When asked which body parts they would donate for transplant or medical research, 51% said their kidney, 49% their liver, 48% their heart and 47% their lungs. However, just 36% said their eyes.

Providing reasons for why they would not donate their corneas, 29% said it was because they were the most personal part of their body and 27% said it would upset their family. Furthermore, three in 10 adult respondents said it was because their eyes were unique to them, while one in six said it was for spiritual reasons.

Around 10 million people worldwide are blind due to damaged corneas and currently the NHS performs an estimated 4000 corneal transplants a year, all of which rely on human organ donation.

Fight for Sight played a key role in establishing the UK Corneal Transplant Service in 1983. Today, statistics from the NHS Blood and Transplant show that corneal transplants are successful sight-saving operations, with 93% of transplants functioning after one year, and 74% of transplants still functioning after five years.

Highlighting the importance of cornea donations, director of research at Fight for Sight, Dr Dolores Conroy, said: “There is a need for 70 corneas per week with the main indications being keratoconus in younger people and endothelial failure – Fuchs dystrophy – in older people. With the lack of corneas available for transplants, it’s vital to have new treatments.”

Dr Conroy explained: “We are developing stem cells therapies to repair the damage to the cornea, gene-replacement therapies and drugs that may be delivered as eye drops to repair faulty genes.”

Managing director of Optegra Eye Health Care, Rory Passmore, added: “There is such importance, and sensitivity connected to eyes, and sadly this is at the cost of not being able to help others to see.

“With more and more people suffering eye conditions, particularly with an ageing population, it is more important than ever that we help if we can. We would really encourage people to discuss this with their families and complete a donor registration if they feel they can.”

Speaking about the importance of people donating their cornea, 36-year-old Elizabeth Keell (pictured), who has been diagnosed with keratoconus and may one day need a transplant, said: “I am grateful that corneal transplant is an option, and so truly value the donations which are given.”