Introduction Corneas for clinical use can be stored for a maximum of 28 days in organ culture medium after death. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 it became apparent that; a rare situation was arising in that clinical operations were being cancelled and that there would be a surplus of “clinical grade” corneas. Consequently, when the corneas reached the end of the storage period, if the tissue had appropriate consent, they were transferred to the Research Tissue Bank (RTB). However, University research had also stopped due to the pandemic and there was a situation where the RTB had good quality tissue without any users. Rather than discarding the tissue, a decision was made to store the tissue for future use by cryopreservation.
Materials and Methods An established protocol for cryopreserving heart valves was adapted. Individual corneas were placed into wax histology cassettes then inside a Hemofreeze heart valve cryopreservation bag with 100 ml cryopreservation medium (10% Dimethyl sulphoxide)). They were frozen in a controlled rate freezer (Planer, UK) to below -150oC and stored in vapour phase over liquid nitrogen (VPLN) below -190oC. To assess morphology, six corneas were cut in half, one half was processed for histology whilst the other half was cryopreserved, stored for 1 week then thawed and processed for histology. The stains used were Haematoxylin and Eosin (H&E) and Miller’s with Elastic Van Gieson (EVG).
Results Comparative histological examination indicated that there were no visible, major, detrimental changes in morphology in the cryopreserved group as compared to the controls. Subsequently, a further, 144 corneas were cryopreserved. Samples were assessed for handling properties by eye bank technicians and ophthalmologists. The eye bank technicians felt that the corneas may be suitable for training purposes such a DSAEK or DMEK. The ophthalmologists said that they had no preference between the fresh or cryopreserved corneas, and both would be equally suitable for training purposes.
Conclusion Time expired, organ-cultured corneas, can be successfully cryopreserved using an established protocol by adapting the storage container and conditions. These corneas are suitable for training purposes and may prevent discard of corneas in future.
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