Purpose: The purpose of this prospective clinical pilot study was to evaluate the efficiency, practicability and safety of topical autologous serum for therapy resistant corneal epithelial defects.
Methods: Between November 1999 and June 2001 autologous serum therapy was applied in 70 eyes of 67 consecutive patients (age 18 to 92 [average 59 +/- 18] years) with corneal epithelial defects refractory to standard clinical treatment at the Department of Ophthalmology University Erlangen-Nürnberg. We evaluated localization, size of the defect, time until epithelial wound closure and the incidence of recurrences in relation to the clinical diagnosis. The blood was obtained by venipuncture, centrifuged and the non-diluted serum was filled in sterile bottles, kept in the + 4 (o)C refrigerator and hourly applied during daytime. Simultaneous systemic and topical medication depended on the underlying disease.
Results: In 45 eyes corneal epithelial defects appeared after penetrating keratoplasty but in 25 eyes corneal epithelial defects were not related to a corneal transplant. The epithelial defect had a medium length of 4.2 +/- 2.4 mm and a width of 3.0 +/- 1.8 mm. Previously, the patients had been treated with maximal topical therapy (including hyaluronic acid) for 13 +/- 11 days. Treatment with autologous serum lasted from 4 to 45 (mean 16 +/- 11) days. A complete corneal re-epithelialization was achieved in 57 of 70 eyes (81 %) after 3 to 45 (mean 15 +/- 12) days. Forty-eight of these 57 eyes (84 %) had no recurrence during a follow-up of 12 +/- 4 months. In 9 eyes (16 %) a recurrent epithelial defect occurred one or two months after initial closure. These eyes were treated successfully with a second autologous serum therapy (6 x), amniotic membrane transplantation (2 x) or repeat keratoplasty (1 x). Thirteen eyes (19 %) without primary success of autologous serum applied for 11 to 50 days were finally treated successfully with amniotic membrane transplantation (10 x) or repeat keratoplasty (3 x).
Conclusion: In persistent corneal epithelium defects, autologous serum therapy can be considered as an effective and practicable therapy without adverse reactions. Especially in eyes after complicated penetrating keratoplasty the prognosis may be improved and more invasive treatment modalities such as botulinum toxin injection, amniotic membrane transplantation or (repeat) penetrating keratoplasty may be avoided. Definitive determinants for the success of this novel therapy have not been identified, yet. However, eyes with accompanying deep stromal defects do not seem to be good candidates.