Honorary researcher leads cornea implant technology breakthrough

Dr Berkay Ozcelik

A Melbourne research team has made an important breakthrough in the treatment of blindness, after successfully growing and implanting corneal cells.

Melbourne School of Engineering alumnus and honorary researcher in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Dr. Berkay Ozcelik has won the Victorian final of Fresh Science for his work on the new technology, which the team plans to progress to human trial stage.

The University of Melbourne–led research team has managed to grow corneal cells on a layer of film that can be implanted in the eye to help the cornea heal itself. They have already successfully restored vision in animal trials. The technology has the potential to overcome the worldwide shortage of donated corneas.

Dr Ozcelik developed the synthetic hydrogel film used to culture new corneal cells at the Polymer Science Group at the Melbourne School of Engineering, working with the Centre for Eye Research Australia.

“The hydrogel film we have developed allows us to grow a layer of corneal cells in the laboratory,” says Dr Ozcelik.

“Then, we can implant that film on the inner surface of a patient’s cornea, within the eye, via a very small incision.”

Once in place the new cells restore the cornea’s vital water-pumping activity, so that the cornea once more becomes transparent.

Dr Ozcelik’s work was this week featured by a range of media outlets including ABC, NineTen, International Business Times, and more.

Fresh Science is a prestigious national program helping early career researchers find a share their discoveries.