Eyesight breakthrough: Scientists develop new way to grow human corneas

Posted on Oct 20 2017 - 2:21am by admin

Experts have grown artificial corneas on a curved surface meaning the cells arrange themselves in a lattice-like structure. 

The process takes three months improving the quality and transparency of the cornea. 

Work by experts at Newcastle University and the University of California is significant because there is a huge shortage of donated corneas. 

The crisis has worsened as corneas cannot be used from anyone who has had laser eye surgery.

Their research showed corneal cells isolated from human donors and grown on curved surfaces arrange themselves in a very regular lattice-like organisation. 

Cells grown this way achieve the precise alignment that gives the human cornea its strength and transparency. 

The new technique could change how artificial tissues are traditionally grown in laboratories around the world.

Lead researcher Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, said: “We discovered that the cells grown on a dome-shaped surface behaved differently than those on flat one, crawling over the dome in a lattice-like structure – similar to a pie crust. 

“These cells then produced large amounts of aligned collagen, the natural fibres that make up the human cornea. 

“This is also the arrangement normally found in the human eye, and there were no easy ways to recreate it in a dish…until now. 

“Our tests showed that the alignment of cells and fibres allowed light to be better focused and made the cornea more transparent. 

“This has never been seen before and has an important impact on how we think and develop new artificial tissues for human transplantation.”

A cornea transplant involves an operation to remove all or part of a damaged cornea, the clear outer layer at the front of the eye ball, and replace it with healthy donor tissue. 

It can be performed to improve sight, relieve pain, and treat severe infection or damage such as after an acid attack. 

One of the most common reasons for a transplant is keratoconus, a condition that causes the cornea to change shape. 

The breakthrough could provide a solution for the shortage of donated human corneal tissues and a practical alternative to the use of artificial plastic corneas which can be rejected by the body. 

Researcher Dr Ricardo Martins Gouveia said: “This study suggests that we will be able to produce corneas that are more similar in shape and form to the natural eye and likely to be better for transplantation compared with other artificial substitutes. 

“We intend to carry out additional research and think our team will be able to test these in humans within two years.”

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