Background: In most European eye banks, human donor corneas are microbiologically tested after storage in organ culture conditions, and the tissues that are free of contamination are distributed for transplantation. In this prospective study, 100 donor corneas were tested for microbial contamination after cold storage, corneal culture and corneal deswelling at the Eye Bank of Rome.
Methods: Samples of cold storage medium (EUSOL‐C), corneal culture medium (TISSUE‐C) and deswelling medium (CARRY‐C) were tested after three, seven and one days of corneal storage, respectively. The CARRY‐C medium, used to transport the cornea to the operation theatre, was retested one day after transplantation. The TISSUE‐C and CARRY‐C media were also tested after removing antimicrobial and antifungal agents using a dedicated device.
Results: We found 67% of the EUSOL‐C samples were contaminated mainly by Staphylococcus spp., 14% of TISSUE‐C media were contaminated by bacteria and fungi and 3% of CARRY‐C media by Staphylococcus spp. The analysis performed after removing the antimicrobial and antifungal agents showed growth in three additional TISSUE‐C samples (S. viridans, S. haemolyticus and E. faecalis) and one CARRY‐C (S. cerevisiae and P. acnes).
Conclusion: Tissue contamination was unexpectedly high on arrival to the eye bank, indicating the need to review and update decontamination procedures during tissue recovery, and renew training for the recovery teams. Storing donor corneas in organ culture conditions significantly reduced the microorganism burden. Using devices to remove antimicrobial and antifungal agents from samples before testing can increase the sensitivity of the standard microbiological method, and thus help further reduce the risk of microbial transmission.