Eye drops from donor blood: a remedy for dry eyes

Sanquin developed serum eye drops from donor blood for people with extremely dry eyes. Serum from patients' own blood has been used for some time now. Together with the Radboudumc, we show that donor serum eye drops work just as well. This has great practical advantages for patients, not all of whom can donate themselves. The results of the study have now been published in Acta Ophthalmologica.

For decades, patients with extremely dry eyes have been treated with serum eye drops made from their own blood: autologous serum drops. Serum is the clear liquid that remains after blood has clotted. Serum is very similar to tear fluid in that it contains proteins that have a restorative effect on damaged corneas. The serum eye drops can therefore take over the function of natural tears and will protect the cornea from damage. 

Donor blood

For those patients with extremely dry eyes Sanquin developed an innovative blood product: serum eye drops made from donor blood. Together with the Radboudumc, researchers of the Product and Process Development department of the Blood Bank have compared the effectiveness of eye drops made from donor serum, allogenic eye drops, with those made from a patient’s own serum. Patients used autologous drops for one month, and allogenic drops for another month. These periods were compared by using questionnaires and eye examinations. Pieter van der Meer, involved in this study from the side of Sanquin: "We were able to demonstrate that there are minimal differences in efficacy and side effects between the patient’s own serum and donor serum. This is a promising start, but more research is needed."

Practical benefits

Donor drops can be a good solution for patients who are unable to donate blood themselves for medical or practical reasons. Radboudumc ophthalmologist Cathrien Eggink: "Donor serum drops are available at all times; the patient no longer has to wait several hours after donating their own blood for the drops to be made!" The own ophthalmologist who wants to prescribe these drops can request them from Sanquin. At present, only a limited group of patients are eligible for these eye drops. 

Dry eyes

Most people who suffer from dry eyes are helped by artificial tears, eye drops that replace the tears. These are readily available at the chemist's or pharmacy. But in the Netherlands, several hundred patients suffer from extremely dry eyes, for which these artificial tears do not help sufficiently. These people have insufficient tear function, which may lead to damage of the cornea. This can be painful or even cause clouding of the cornea, which can endanger vision.

Examples of dry eye disorders include Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease in which the tear and salivary glands are inflamed, or chronic Graft versus Host disease, a severe reaction after a stem cell transplant in which donor cells attack the body of the recipient person.

Publication in Acta Ophthalmologica: Allogeneic and autologous serum eye drops: a pilot double-blind randomised crossover trial - Pieter F. van der Meer, Sanne K. Verbakel, Aine Honohan, Jos Lorinser, Rogier M. Thurlings, Joannes F.M. Jacobs, Dirk de Korte, Catharina A. Eggink. DOI: 10.1111/aos.14788.