Importance: Surgeons starting to perform Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK) should be informed about the learning curve and experience of others.
Objective: To document the clinical outcome of standardized "no-touch" DMEK and its complications during the learning curves of experienced surgeons.
Design, setting, and participants: Retrospective multicenter study. A total of 431 eyes from 401 patients with Fuchs endothelial dystrophy (68.2%) and bullous keratopathy (31.8%) underwent DMEK performed by 18 surgeons in 11 countries.
Exposures: Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty.
Main outcomes and measures: Best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA), endothelial cell density, and intraoperative and postoperative complications.
Results: Of 275 eyes available for BCVA pooled analysis, BCVA improved in 258 eyes (93.8%), remained unchanged in 12 (4.4%), and deteriorated in 5 (1.8%). Two hundred seventeen eyes (78.9%) reached a BCVA of at least 20/40 (≥0.5), 117 (42.5%) at least 20/25 (≥0.8), and 61 (22.2%) at least 20/20 (≥1.0). Eyes with at least 6 months of follow-up (n = 176) reached similar BCVA outcomes. Mean (SD) decrease in endothelial cell density at 6 months was 47% (20%) (n = 133 [P = .02]). Intraoperative complications were rare, including difficulties in inserting, unfolding, or positioning of the graft (1.2%) and intraoperative hemorrhage (0.5%). The main postoperative complication was graft detachment (34.6%); 20.4% underwent a single rebubbling procedure, occasionally requiring a second (2.6%) and a third rebubbling (0.7%), and 17.6% underwent a second keratoplasty.
Conclusions and relevance: Our multicenter study showed that the standardized no-touch DMEK technique was feasible in most hands. The main challenges for surgeons starting to perform the procedure may be (1) to decide whether graft preparation is outsourced or performed during surgery, (2) to limit the number of graft detachments and secondary procedures, and (3) to obtain organ cultured donor corneal tissue.