High-risk corneal allografts: A therapeutic challenge

Tian Yu, Vijayalakshmi Rajendran, May Griffith, John V Forrester, Lucia Kuffová

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Corneal transplantation is the most common surgical procedure amongst solid organ transplants with a high survival rate of 86% at 1-year post-grafting. This high success rate has been attributed to the immune privilege of the eye. However, mechanisms originally thought to promote immune privilege, such as the lack of antigen presenting cells and vessels in the cornea, are challenged by recent studies. Nevertheless, the immunological and physiological features of the cornea promoting a relatively weak alloimmune response is likely responsible for the high survival rate in "low-risk" settings. Furthermore, although corneal graft survival in "low-risk" recipients is favourable, the prognosis in "high-risk" recipients for corneal graft is poor. In "high-risk" grafts, the process of indirect allorecognition is accelerated by the enhanced innate and adaptive immune responses due to pre-existing inflammation and neovascularization of the host bed. This leads to the irreversible rejection of the allograft and ultimately graft failure. Many therapeutic measures are being tested in pre-clinical and clinical studies to counter the immunological challenge of "high-risk" recipients. Despite the prevailing dogma, recent data suggest that tissue matching together with use of systemic immunosuppression may increase the likelihood of graft acceptance in "high-risk" recipients. However, immunosuppressive drugs are accompanied with intolerance/side effects and toxicity, and therefore, novel cell-based therapies are in development which target host immune cells and restore immune homeostasis without significant side effect of treatment. In addition, developments in regenerative medicine may be able to solve both important short comings of allotransplantation: (1) graft rejection and ultimate graft failure; and (2) the lack of suitable donor corneas. The advances in technology and research indicate that wider therapeutic choices for patients may be available to address the worldwide problem of corneal blindness in both "low-risk" and "high-risk" hosts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-27
Number of pages18
Journal World Journal of Transplantation
Issue number1
Early online date3 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2016


  • "high-risk" grafts
  • graft rejection
  • systemic immunosuppression
  • cell-based immunomodulation
  • keratoprosthesis
  • collagen-based hydrogels


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