Corneal blindness

Interview with Professor Luigi Fontana, Director of the Ophthalmology Unit of the IRCCS Sant’Orsola Polyclinic, Bologna
Federico Bartolomei

Serious pathologies of the cornea (i.e., the surface at the front of the eye, directly behind the eyelids) may cause critical alterations of its transparency, resulting in reduced vision and, in some cases, even blindness. In the adult population, corneal opacities account for 3.21% of the causes of blindness and 1.14% of the causes of moderate or severe reduced vision. According to World Health Organization studies, about 39 million people worldwide are considered blind, and it is estimated that 80% of all cases of corneal blindness are avoidable and above all reversible.

We spoke about corneal blindness with Professor Luigi Fontana, Director of the Ophthalmology Unit of the IRCCS Sant’Orsola Polyclinic, Bologna, who explained that it “is the fourth leading cause of blindness worldwide, after cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration linked to physiological aging.” He adds that “the main solution to this problem is the corneal transplant, which aims to restore vision and ensure the best possible corneal transparency.”

Professor Luigi Fontana, Director of the Ophthalmology Unit of IRCCS Sant’Orsola Polyclinic, Bologna - Photographic portrait

The most common pathologies leading to corneal transplant are hereditary and acquired degenerative diseases of the corneal endothelium, corneal opacity acquired after the development of microbial infections (viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitical), and corneal ectasia, especially keratoconus.

We asked Professor Fontana if there are preventable or avoidable conditions.

“Yes, of course. For keratoconus, the association with allergies and eye rubbing are useful signs for early diagnosis and prevention of the disease. An early diagnosis plus corneal cross-linking treatment enable most patients to avoid a corneal transplant.”

Now we are talking about corneal transplant (with recent news that Professor Fontana’s Ophthalmology Unit led by has performed a record number of these), but many people who have lost their sight due to other diseases are probably wondering if and when it will be possible to transplant other parts of the eye, for example the retina.

“So far, we cannot transplant the entire eyeball or other parts of the eye, such as the retina. However, research is focusing on the transplant of a few retinal layers, including the pigment epithelium, with promising, although still initial, results.”


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