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What is an Eye Bank?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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An eye bank is a facility which collects and processes eyes and donor eye tissue. These facilities handle ocular materials intended for transplant as well as materials used in research. Eye banks can be found in many regions of the world, and they are sometimes part of larger facilities which handle donor material intended for use in transplants and research. People who are interested in becoming eye donors can request paperwork from a regional eye bank and discuss their intents with their loved ones and medical care providers.

Tissue collected by an eye bank is taken after death, ideally within 12 hours to maintain viability. The eye bank must receive permission before proceeding, sending a technician to perform the denucleation procedure to remove the entire eye and bring it back to the eye bank. The technician also usually quickly inspects the donor's body in case there are signs of a condition which would lead the eye bank to reject the eye, and draws blood so that the eye bank can perform testing.

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At the eye bank, the donor's blood is screened for transmissible diseases and the eye is cleaned and inspected. The cornea is carefully removed and stored in preservation medium, where it can last for up to six months, and the eye bank may also collect the vitreous from the eye for use in treatment of retinal detachment. The remainder of the material may be banked for future reference, or sent to a facility which performs research. When it is no longer needed, it will be respectfully disposed of.

Donating an eye to an eye bank can result in restoring sight to someone else. Thanks to the fact that exact matching is not required and to the fact that corneas can be stored, waiting lists for cornea donation are not as long as those for people waiting on other transplants, but donations of eyes are still needed on a regular basis, and the generosity of organ and tissue donors is always appreciated. People can also engage in directed donation, indicating a specific recipient for their corneas after death.

There are specific laws about how organ and tissue donation can be handled. Donor material can only be taken when it has been approved, and only after the patient is deceased or determined to be brain dead, and thus a candidate for organ and tissue donation. Eye donation is often possible when other types of donation are not an option, and even if the tissue cannot be used for a donation, it can be utilized in valuable research which may help doctors learn how to treat and prevent eye injuries.

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