PURPOSE: Corneal tissue shortage has become a major concern worldwide, which has motivated the search for alternative solutions to eye bank human eyes for corneal transplantation. Minimally invasive lamellar transplantation and tissue engineering may offer new opportunities for the rehabilitation of diseased corneas. The aim of this study was to evaluate the biocompatibility and functionality of stromal lamellar grafts tissue-engineered (TE) in vitro and transplanted in vivo in the cornea of a feline model.
METHODS: The corneal stromas were engineered in culture from corneal stromal cells using the self-assembly approach, without the addition of exogenous material or scaffold. Eight healthy animals underwent two intrastromal grafts in one eye and the contralateral eye was used as a control. Animals were followed with slit-lamp ophthalmic examination, corneal esthesiometry and optical coherent tomography. Confocal microscopy, immunofluorescence, histology, and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) were performed at 4 months.
RESULTS: Four months after transplantation, the TE-stromal grafts were transparent, functional, and well tolerated by the eye. All grafts remained avascular, with no signs of immune rejection, despite a short course of low-dose topical steroids. Corneal sensitivity returned to preoperative level and reinnervation of the grafts was confirmed by confocal microscopy and immunofluorescence. Histology and TEM of the TE-grafts showed a lamellar stromal structure with regular collagen fibril arrangement.
CONCLUSIONS: These results open the way to an entirely new therapeutic modality. Intracorneal filling using a biocompatible, transparent, and malleable TE-stroma could be the basis for multiple types of novel therapeutic options in corneal interventional surgery.
- cell culture
- corneal stroma
- corneal substitute
- corneal transplantation
- tissue engineering