Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Form Limbal-Like Stem Cells


Limbal epithelial stem cells or LESCs are found at the periphery of the cornea and they continuously renew the corneal epithelium. Loss of this stem cell population can cause loss of corneal transparency and eventual loss of vision.

Genetic conditions can cause LESC deficiency, such as congenital aniridia, Stevens-Johnson syndrome or Ocular cicatricial pemphigoid. Other causes of LESC deficiency include chemical or thermal burns to the eye, microbial infections, extended contact lens wear, sulfur mustard gas poisoning, or chronic inflammation of the eye,

Limbal epithelial stem cells reside in the basal layer of the epithelium (Ep), which undulates at the limbus. Daughter transient amplifying cells (TACs) divide and migrate towards the central cornea (arrowed) to replenish the epithelium, which rests on Bowman's layer (BL). The stroma (St) of the limbal epithelial stem cell niche is populated with fibroblasts and melanocytes and also has a blood supply.
Limbal epithelial stem cells reside in the basal layer of the epithelium (Ep), which undulates at the limbus. Daughter transient amplifying cells (TACs) divide and migrate towards the central cornea (arrowed) to replenish the epithelium, which rests on Bowman’s layer (BL). The stroma (St) of the limbal epithelial stem cell niche is populated with fibroblasts and melanocytes and also has a blood supply.

Treatments of LESC deficiency include limbal stem cell grafts from one eye to another, but these grafts have a 3-5-year graft survival of only 30%-45%. If LESCs are expanded in culture on human amniotic membrane, then 76% of the grafts will successfully take 1-3 years after grafting. This procedure is not standardized. If LESCs are grafted from a cadaver, their survival is low.

Given these less than optimal treatments for LESC deficiencies, Alexander Ljubimov and his team from UCLA have used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to make cultured LESCs. Ljubimov and his coworkers derived iPSCs from the skin cells of volunteers with non-integrating plasmids. Then they grew these cells on corneas that have been stripped of their cells and human amniotic membranes and these cells differentiated into LESC-like cells.

Ljubimov and others also made iPSCs from human LESCs, and when they cultured these iPSCs derived from LESCs on human amniotic membranes for two weeks, the cells differentiated into LESCs that made LESC-specific genes, and had the epigenetic characteristics of LESCs.

These experiments show that the cell source for iPSC derivation can greatly influence the epigenetic characteristics of the iPSC line. Also these experiments show that iPSCs can be used to make LESCs that can potentially be used for therapeutic purposes.

New Approach for Corneal Stem Cell Treatments


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.