Corneal transplantation, also known as corneal grafting, is a surgical procedure where a damaged or diseased cornea is replaced by donated corneal tissue (the graft) in its entirety (penetrating keratoplasty) or in part (lamellar keratoplasty). (Keratoplasy is surgery to the cornea.) The graft is taken from a recently deceased individual with no known diseases or other factors that may affect the viability of the donated tissue or the health of the recipient.
The cornea is the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil and anterior chamber. The surgical procedure is performed by ophthalmologists, physicians who specialize in eyes, and is often done on an outpatient basis. Donors can be of any age, as is shown in the case of Janis Babson, who donated her eyes at age 10. The corneal transplantation is performed when medicines, keratoconus conservative surgery and cross-linking can not heal the cornea anymore.
The cornea has unmyelinated nerve endings sensitive to touch, temperature and chemicals; a touch of the cornea causes an involuntary reflex to close the eyelid. Because transparency is of prime importance the cornea does not have blood vessels; it receives nutrients via diffusion from the tear fluid through the outside surface and the aqueous humour through the inside surface, and also from neurotrophins supplied by nerve fibres that innervate it. In humans, the cornea has a diameter of about 11.5 mm and a thickness of 0.5–0.6 mm in the center and 0.6–0.8 mm at the periphery. Transparency, avascularity, the presence of immature resident immune cells, and immunologic privilege makes the cornea a very special tissue. The cornea has no blood supply; it gets oxygen directly through the air. Oxygen first dissolves in the tears and then diffuses throughout the cornea to keep it healthy.
It borders with the sclera by the corneal limbus.
The most abundant soluble protein in mammalian cornea is albumin.
In lampreys, the cornea is solely an extension of the sclera, and is separate from the skin lying above it, but in more advanced vertebrates it is always fused with the skin to form a single structure, albeit one composed of multiple layers. In fish, and aquatic vertebrates in general, the cornea plays no role in focusing light, since it has virtually the same refractive index as water.