A cornea transplant replaces diseased corneal tissue with a disc of healthy tissue from a donor. National Eye Research Centre is proud to have funded the establishment of the UK Corneal Transplant Service and ongoing research into improved treatments for corneal disease and methods of corneal transplantation.

There are different types of corneal transplant, the procedure chosen depends on which part of the cornea is damaged or how much of the cornea needs replacing. The procedure usually lasts less than one hour and is carried out under local anaesthetic.

Cornea transplants are successful sight-saving operations, with 93% of grafts functioning after one year. By five years, 72% of grafts are still functioning and many will continue for many more years after that.

The first successful cornea transplant was reported in Olmütz, Moravia, (now the Czech Republic) on 7 December 1905.

90% of transplants in the UK use corneas stored in the Corneal Transplant Service eye banks in Bristol and Manchester, which use special techniques to store the corneas for up to four weeks. Corneas are sent from other eye banks and hospitals throughout the UK for storage and subsequent distribution to more than 200 cornea transplant units.

More than 56,000 cornea transplants have been recorded on the UK National Transplant Database since the Corneal Transplant Service began in 1983.

The corneal preparation room at Bristol Eye Hospital

The corneal preparation room in Bristol Eye Hospital

Both old and young patients benefit from cornea transplants. Over half (52%) of all cornea transplant recipients are aged 60-89; nearly a quarter are patients in their 70s; and 3% of recipients are under 19 years old. The youngest person to receive a cornea transplant was just a few days old, the oldest was 104.

 "I feel so lucky. Without the research that developed the corneal graft procedure I would be blind and dependent on a guide dog." 

Read Margaret's story here

How to donate your corneas

There is a shortage of donated corneas in the UK. Many more people could have the chance to benefit from sight-saving surgery if more corneas were donated.

People of all ages can donate their corneas after they die, and about 65% of cornea-only donors are over 60 years old. Many more people could be cornea donors than organ donors because, unlike solid organs, corneas can be donated up to 24 hours after death. You do not have to die in hospital to donate your corneas, but the retrieval service is usually provided by major hospitals.

To register with the NHS Organ donor register, join online here or call 0300 123 23 23 (open 24 hours 7 days a week). 

NHS organ donation card

You can help to find new treatments and end sight loss forever. Please make a gift today.