More than 8 million people worldwide suffer from corneal blindness; a form of blindness that results from cloudiness of the outermost covering of the eye, the cornea.
Usually, the cornea copes quite well with minor injuries or scrapes and scratches. If the cornea is scratched, healthy cells slide over quickly and patch the injury before infection occurs and vision is not adversely affected. However, if the scratch penetrates the cornea more deeply, then the healing process takes longer and can result in greater pain, blurred vision, tearing, redness, and extreme sensitivity to light. Such scratches may require professional treatment. Even deeper scratches can also cause corneal scarring, which results in a haze on the cornea that can greatly impair vision, and the patient might require a corneal transplant.
Alternatively, corneal stem cells can help heal a damaged cornea; especially in those cases where the cornea has been damaged to the point where the native stem cell population has suffered irreparable damage (e.g., chemical burns, eye infections, or cases where the patient was born with a corneal stem cell deficiency).
A feasible treatment for such cases is a corneal stem cell transplant from another eye or from cultured corneal stem cells. Unfortunately, this procedure has not yet been standardized to date.
Fortunately, researchers at the Eye Program at the Cedar-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute have designed a fast, new procedure for preparing human amniotic membrane to use as a scaffold for corneal stem cells. The membrane provides a foundation that supports the growth of stem cells that can be grafted onto the cornea.
To date, a standardized method does not exist for the preparation of amniotic membranes for culturing corneal stem cells. Many methods use chemicals and may leave behind amniotic cells and membrane components.
This new procedure, however, takes less than one minute and ensures complete amniotic cell removal and preservation of amniotic membrane components, and, as an added bonus, supports the overall growth of various stem and tissue cells.
“We believe that this straightforward and relatively fast procedure would allow easier standardization of amniotic membrane as a valuable stem cell support and improve the current standard of care in corneal stem cell transplantation,” said the lead author of this work Alexander Ljubimov, the director of the Eye Program at the Cedar-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute. “This new method may provide a better method for researchers, transplant corneal surgeons, and manufacturing companies alike.”
The amniotic membrane has several beneficial properties for corneal stem cells culturing and use in corneal transplantations. For this reason it is an attractive framework for the growth and culture of corneal stem cells and for corneal transplantations.
The new method for amniotic membrane preparation will provide a fast way to create scaffolds for cell expansion and might potentially streamline clinical applications of cell therapies.