Pioneering eye surgery centre marks 60th anniversary with vision for the future

Friday 1st November 2013

Pioneering eye surgery centre marks 60th anniversary with vision for the future

QVH is today hosting a summit meeting of the world’s leading eye surgeons to discuss innovative new treatments that will benefit patients at the hospital. QVH is the UK’s leading centre for reconstructive eye surgery.

The conference is part of the QVH Eye Bank’s 60th anniversary celebrations. It was the first facility in the UK for storing donated eyes and was only made possible by a change in the law. A campaign led by QVH surgeon Sir Benjamin Rycroft, and supported by the local community, led to the passing of the Corneal Graft Act in record time in 1952 and the Eye Bank opened shortly after.

The new QVH treatments and techniques being discussed at the conference include:

Collagen cross linking – This simple, life-changing 10-minute procedure involves using a combination of vitamin eye drops and ultraviolent light to treat keratoconus, a condition that affects as many as 1 in 2000 people and can cause blindness. QVH was the first NHS hospital in the UK to offer the procedure which has recently been recommended by the NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) as one of the most effective ways to treat the condition.

Stem cell transplants – QVH is the only centre in the UK that can grow new layers of the eye from stem cells in the Eye Bank laboratory. These new cells can then be transplanted to heal an eye which has been damaged by an accident or genetic condition. Stem cells can be taken from the patients other eye, if it is healthy, from relatives or from dead donors. For people with no stem cells in either eye, QVH is soon to introduce a new technique enabling cells from the mouth to be used to grow new eye cells, avoiding the need for gruelling courses of immunosuppressant drugs for successful transplantation.

Corneal transplants for children – QVH is one of very few hospitals in the country that carry out corneal transplants for children who are born with eye conditions or have had accidents. This is a particularly specialist procedure because the transplanted cornea needs to be able to grow and develop with the child.

Tissue engineering – The QVH Eye Bank is the only facility in the UK able to grow, cut and shape individual layers of the cornea, either from stem cells or from donated corneas, so that only the damaged or diseased sections of the eye need to be replaced. Leaving the rest of the eye intact in this way greatly improves the chances of a transplant success. The Eye Bank also carries out this service for other hospitals and clinics.

QVH’s eye services see around 8000 patients and carry out around 3500 procedures each year. In addition to treating the most complex cases, QVH also carries out many of the more routine procedures, such as cataract removal and treatment for glaucoma. This means that people from across the south east with what would be considered more ‘common’ eye problems can still come to QVH to benefit from expertise and advanced equipment not available elsewhere in the NHS.

The QVH Eye Bank was the country’s only facility for storing donated corneas until the 1980s, although it continues to be the most expert and technologically advanced. Technicians collect donated corneas and store and manage them for use in procedures at QVH and elsewhere. The tissue engineering techniques used at QVH mean that each donated cornea can be used to help at least three different recipients, with stem cells and the front and back layers being used separately. The laboratory is also pioneering the creation of eye drops made from patient’s own blood to manage some conditions.

The conference is being held at Lingfield Park on Friday 1 November and will be attended by more than 100 delegates from eight countries. It is being led by QVH eye surgeons Samer Hamada and Damian Lake.

QVH eye surgeon Samer Hamada said: “When the QVH Eye Bank opened 60 years ago, in the early days of the NHS, the idea of being able to restore someone’s sight with a corneal transplant was at the cutting edge of medical science. Now, the possibilities of tissue engineering being pioneered at the eye bank are even more amazing. Long gone are the days when we had to replace the whole cornea. We are working on a new key-hole technique that will enable us to make and roll up a new layer of the eye to replace damaged tissue and to then be able to insert, unroll and position it through a simple injection.”

QVH eye surgeon Damian Lake said: “The QVH Eye Bank is an important piece of history made possible by the support of the people of East Grinstead. They can be proud that their local hospital is still leading the world in the development of eye treatments. This important meeting of the world’s top eye specialists will help us to develop even more new services at QVH and further spread our expertise internationally.”

Dan Saunders, 32, from Five Ash Down near Uckfield, had collagen cross linking to treat keratoconus at QVH earlier this year. He said: “My optician told me that something wasn’t right with my eyes and referred me to my GP. It was a worry as my sight was getting worse and I found reading, driving, even watching television was really tiring. But once I was referred to QVH they were very reassuring and explained exactly what the problem was. I couldn’t believe how quick and easy the collagen cross linking was, but the difference it has made to my life has been amazing.”

Oriel Agranoff, 15, who lived in Rowfant near East Grinstead, also had collagen cross linking to treat keratoconus at QVH earlier this year. He said: “The condition was diagnosed by chance by my optician. Although it wasn’t affecting me noticeably at the time, I’m really pleased it was spotted and that I had the procedure early to prevent it getting worse. The procedure was carried out under a local anaesthetic and was surprisingly quick and simple for something that will make such a massive difference to my future eyesight.”

Read more about our corneoplastic and opthalmology services