People who have lost their sight in acid attacks may one day be able to see again thanks to a revolutionary new treatment.
An upcoming UK study will test the enzyme collagenase in 30 patients who have been in acid attacks or industrial accidents.
Applying collagenase to damaged corneas has been shown to soften the underlying tissue in rabbits.
This allowed the stem cells beneath the cornea to multiply and regenerate, which led to the injury repairing itself.
The pending study will be the first time the technique has been tested in real-life patients. Results are expected in 2021.
The study comes after a previous trial tested the enzyme collagenase in rabbits with damaged corneas. This helped to soften the tissue underneath, which allowed the stem cells to multiply and differentiate. A healthy rabbit cornea post-treatment is shown left and untreated right
The study will be carried out by Newcastle University and led by Dr Ricardo Gouveia, new harvest research fellow.
Study author Dr Che Connon, professor of tissue engineering, said: 'The simplicity and relative low cost of this therapy compared to existing approaches in which stem cells have to be transplanted is a game-changer.
'It greatly expands the number of potential patients being treated for corneal burns across the world and may well have applications in other diseases.'
Almost half-a-million people a year all over the world lose their sight due to chemical burns, including acid attacks.
And nearly five million people are completely blind as a result of corneal scars, which can occur due to burns, deep cuts or diseases.
A cornea transplant is an operation to remove all or part of someone's cornea if it is damaged by injury or disease and replace it with donor tissue.
The cornea is a see-through layer at the front of the eye which protects the vital parts such as the iris and pupil.
The operation may also be called a keratoplasty or a corneal graft.
And it is commonly performed to help people who have a condition called keratoconus, which is when the cornea changes shape.
The procedure can be performed on an entire cornea or just on the outer layers, depending on how seriously damaged it is.
Patients can be kept awake