Currently, if someone has a damaged cornea (the surface of the eye), it's covered with a "bandage" made from the amniotic membrane of human placentas. While this does help repair the eye, an Australian scientist is developing what he believes may be a better alternative – a wound-healing contact lens.

Amniotic membranes have proven anti-inflammatory and anti-scarring effects, plus they contain growth factors that promote wound healing. According to the Queensland University of Technology's Prof. Damien Harkin, however, those qualities vary significantly between individual samples. Additionally, the donated membranes are often in short supply.

That's where his contact lens comes in.

More precisely, it's a scleral lens, which is a large therapeutic contact lens that forms a tear-filled vault over the cornea. Its inside surface is coated with limbal mesenchymal stromal cells, which could be harvested from readily-available donor eye tissue that is ordinarily discarded after corneal transplants. These cells, he claims, have more consistent wound-healing qualities than the amniotic membranes, and should be easier to obtain.

"Our therapy could provide welcome relief for patients suffering from chronic conditions such as corneal ulcers and persistent surface defects that haven't responded to conventional therapies," he says. "The new treatment could also become useful as a part of the first-line therapy in the management of acute eye injuries experienced in the work place or at home arising from exposure to caustic chemicals, scalding liquids or excessive heat."

It is hoped that following clinical trials and with additional funding, the lenses could be available for use on patients within a few years.