Eye bank to provide tissue for worldwide research, transplants

June 1, 2006

Memphis, TN-The National Eye Bank Center (NEBC), nowofficially open for business, offers a centralized location forproviding ocular tissue for transplant surgery and researchworldwide.

Operated by Tissue Banks International (TBI), the center was dedicated in April with a ceremony by Gerald J. Cole, president and chief executive officer of TBI, and Thomas O. Wood, MD, medical director of NEBC. The center opened in September and has already shipped 600 corneas throughout the country and overseas.

"If we operated for a full year at our current rate, it would be 2,000 (procedures)," Cole said. TBI's 14 community-based centers, which remain open for local donation retrieval work, previously averaged 400 each year.

Equipped with specular microscopes, slit-lamp microscopes, a microkeratome, and a femtosecond laser, the facility hopes to process 10,000 corneas each year and could double that capacity as demand grows.

The center offers pre-cut grafts for DLEK, ALK, and other specialty transplant procedures, and the tissue is shipped via FedEx to researchers in the United States and overseas within 24 hours.

Cole said the single central facility allows TBI to invest in more expensive equipment and highly skilled personnel, while maintaining compliance with increasingly stringent FDA requirements.

"With some of our more modest-sized eye banks that only have a staff of three or four people, separation of duties is kind of difficult when you're staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," he said.

Corneal tissue designated for donation is excised in the field, immediately placed in preservation media, and transported to Memphis for evaluation and processing. If the tissue is not needed in the community from which it came, it is made available elsewhere, Cole said.

"We have [corneas] in the hands of our surgeons within 5 days or less," he said.