EYEREGEN – Engineering a scaffold based therapy for corneal regeneration
Funded by European Research Council (Project: 637460) the aim of this project is to develop smart scaffolds capable on inducing corneal regeneration post-implantation. Most previous approaches at engineering corneal tissue have required access to donor cells and lengthy culture periods in an attempt to grow tissue in vitro prior to implantation with only limited success and at great expense. Alternatively cell free corneal implants have been develop but these do not promote repair of the tissue. In this project the approach differs fundamentally in that we are designing artificial corneal scaffolds that do not require donated cells or in vitro culture but instead will recruit the patient’s own cells to regenerate the cornea post-implantation. These biomaterial scaffolds incorporate specific chemical and physical cues with the deliberate aim of attracting cells and inducing tissue formation. Studies are being conducted to examine how different chemical, biochemical, physical and mechanical cues can be used to control the behaviour of corneal epithelial, stromal and endothelial cells. Once the optimal combination of these cues has been determined, this information will be incorporated into the design of the scaffold. Recent advances in manufacturing and material processing technology will enable us to develop scaffolds with organized nanometric architectures and that incorporate controlled growth factor release mechanisms.
Development of a novel stem cell approach for corneal tissue engineering
One of the major difficulties in trying to engineer corneal tissue in vitro has been to obtain sufficient numbers of suitable cells to induce tissue formation. Adipose derived stem cells (ASCs) can be cultivated and differentiated into cells that have characteristics similar to corneal keratocytes, providing a potentially attractive alternative source of cells for engineering cornea. In this project we have examined different media formulations that are capable of regulating the phenotype of keratocytes (Lynch et al., Exp Eye Res 2016) and ASCs (Ahearne et al., Cell Regen 2014; Lynch & Ahearne, Trans Vis Sci Tech 2017). In addition, we have developed decellularized corneal scaffolds (Lynch et al., Tissue Eng C 2016) and hydrogels (Ahearne & Lynch, Tissue Eng C 2015; Ahearne & Coyle, J Mech Behav Biomed Mater 2016) capable of mimicking the native corneas optical properties, matrix composition and structure. This research has been funded by Science Foundation Ireland and Marie-Curie COFUND (Project: 11/SIRG/B2104)