Many people are willing to donate their eyes to research, but don't know how, a new study finds.
Demand for eye tissue is high, but the number of eyes donated for research fell 28% between 1997 and 2004, said study leader Andrew Williams, a third-year student at the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University.
"A lot of people aren't aware they can donate their eyes to research," Williams said in a university news release. "They don't really know how to get the process started. It comes down to a lack of education."
The researchers surveyed about 200 patients with eye diseases and found that 90% were willing to donate their eyes for research after they died, according to the study recently published in the journal Current Eye Research.
Among the survey participants who were not registered to donate, nearly eight out of 10 gave what the researchers called "non-prohibitive" reasons. These include never being asked to donate, or believing that their eyes were too diseased to donate, even though diseased eyes are actually useful for research.
The rules vary for becoming an eye donor depending on where a person lives. In some states it is different to being an organ donor and people may not realize they have to check a box specifically for eye donation. And even those who have offered to donate their eyes may neglect to designate them specifically for research.
"The donation process is too complex. It could be structured better to facilitate donations," Williams noted in the news release.
He suggested that states could simplify eye donation by providing patients who express interest with more information about the process. While many doctors are hesitant to ask patients to donate eyes, placing pamphlets about eye donation in the waiting room may help, Williams added.
The study found that 41% of patients preferred learning about eye donation from their doctor and 37% would rather learn from a pamphlet. Patients also said they were more likely to consider donating their eyes if they had strong trust in their eye doctor.
The Eye Bank Association of America has more about eye donation.