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DNA Champions New Eye Tissue Process


March is National Eye Donor Month! During the month of March, increased attention is called to donors who have given the gift of sight and recipients whose vision has been restored by a transplant. In 2015, Arizonans gave the gift of sight to more than 1,000 people through the generosity of eye donation.

Donor Network of Arizona (DNA), the state’s federally designated, nonprofit organ procurement organization (OPO) now processes eye tissue that is used in a state-of-the-art surgery to restore vision that has been damaged by disease and cell dystrophy. DNA is also the state’s only eye bank accredited by the Eye Bank Association of America and is one of just two OPOs in the country providing this vision-saving tissue.

The procedure, descemet’s membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK), requires donated cornea tissues. The donated tissues required are the two innermost layers of the cornea and cannot be seen without powerful microscopes.

To perform the DMEK procedure, the surgeon removes damaged and abnormal cells from behind the recipient’s cornea. The eye bank prepared donor tissues are then inserted through a small incision, replacing the diseased cells.

Scientific data demonstrates that the DMEK procedure consistently provides the best results for vision restoration with shorter recovery times for specific eye disease. There is also a lowered risk of rejection compared to alternative procedures. In order to offer this sight-restoring tissue, DNA technicians devote hours to learning to manipulate the delicate tissues from donated corneas. Technicians face many challenges, including tissue loss and tearing, which require months of training and proper technique to overcome.

Ocular Recovery Coordinator Anthony Vizzerra (back) and Ocular Services Coordinator David Moses (front) prepare to recover ocular tissue to be used in a DMEK procedure.

“I am humbled to give a donor’s gift of corneal tissue the opportunity to be transplanted,” says DNA’s Ocular Services Coordinator David Moses CEBT. “We want to honor each donor’s wish to share sight, and being able to prepare corneal tissue for the DMEK transplant surgery means we can make the most of each generous donation.”

Providing DMEK corneal tissue demonstrates DNA’s commitment to supporting ocular transplant surgeons in innovative techniques to meet the needs of individuals with vision loss while making the most of each donor’s generous gift of donation.

The first Arizona patient to undergo the DMEK procedure using cornea tissue from an Arizona donor received his transplant on Jan. 11, 2016. For more information on the DMEK surgery, view this article from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Arizonans can sign up as registered organ, eye tissue donors when they apply for or renew their driver’s license or ID at the MVD. They can also become donors by signing up online at DonateLifeAZ.org or calling 1-800-94-DONOR.


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