The use of amniotic membranes (tissue from the placenta) in medicine dates back to more than one hundred years ago. It was just in the past few years, however, that sutureless amniotic membranes came to the ophthalmic marketplace for use in eye care. What is an amniotic membrane and why would you ever want one in your eye, you ask?
Amniotic Membranes Provide Healing Properties
Amniotic membranes are derived from the donated placenta of live cesarean births. There is no selling of body parts involved in this process. The properties of this tissue are immune-privileged and do not have to be tissue-matched like cornea transplants. The healing properties of amniotic membranes go a long way to make up for a deficit in healing that is so common in patients whose immune system is compromised from age or inflammatory diseases, or whose stem cells are burned out.
Related Read: Do You Have Dry Eye Syndrome? Signs to Look For
Bandage Contact Lenses Offer Limited Corneal Protection
The stem cells that fight diseases and help heal a cornea are at the junction of the white of the eye and the cornea, the clear dome-like structure that covers the iris (colored part of the eye). When chronic inflammation exists, as we see with keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye), inflammation becomes chronic and progressive. The inflammation does not resolve on its own and just gets worse over time. Sometimes, a bandage contact lens will help, but only if the lens can be worn comfortably and tolerated over a longer period of time to permit healing to occur–days to weeks. The bandage lenses do not have any inherent healing properties, the only protection from exposure due to the eyelids not sealing all the way or ocular inflammation. When a bandage lens cannot be worn to heal the irritated eye, amniotic membrane use is the next logical step.
Click this link to read Dr. Brill’s published article The Role of Amniotic Membrane Transplantation
Two Types of Amniotic Membranes Are Used to Heal the Eye
There are two types of membranes that are commonly used – dry and wet.
Wet Amniotic Membrane – The wet type is called ProKera and looks like a thin skin attached to a small plastic ring. The ProKera amniotic membrane is applied directly to the eye and generally well-tolerated while the ring is held in place at the cul-de-sac of the junction of where the inside of the eyelid meets the white of the eye (sclera). Usually, the healing occurs quickly and may only need to be worn for less than a week before miraculous healing occurs.
Dry Amniotic Membrane – The second type of amniotic membrane looks like a very thin dry wafer of tissue. BioDOptix and Ambiodisk are two common brands we use in practice. This is placed directly on the cornea and held in place with a bandage contact lens placed directly on top of it. Both types work very well when there are indications for their use. For dry, irritated eyes, this can be a lifesaver and permit a new lease on corneal health. As an optometrist, I have published professional articles on amniotic membranes and regularly lecture to eye doctor groups on their use and efficacy when indicated.