Background: Corneal scarring or disease may lead to severe corneal opacification and consequently, severe loss of vision due to the complete loss of corneal epithelial cells. We studied the use of epithelial cell sheets differentiated from fetal cartilage-derived stem cells (FCSC) to resurface damaged cornea. Methods: The FCSC were isolated from the femoral head of immature cartilage tissue. The ability of the FCSCs to differentiate into corneal epithelial cells was evaluated using differentiation media at 2 days and 7 days post-seeding. A sheet fabricated of FCSCs was also used for the differentiation assay. The results of the in vitro studies were evaluated by immunocytochemistry and Western blots for corneal epithelial cell markers (CK3/12 and Pax6) and limbal epithelial stem cell markers (ABCG2 and p63). To test the material in vivo, an FCSC-sheet was applied as a treatment in a chemically burned rabbit model. The healing ability was observed histologically one week after treatment. Results: The in vitro experiments showed morphological changes in the FCSCs at two and seven days of culture. The differentiated cells from the FCSCs or the FCSC-sheet expressed corneal epithelial cells markers. FCSC were create cell sheet that successfully differentiated into corneal epithelial cells and had sufficient adhesion so that it could be fused to host tissue after suture to the ocular surface with silk suture. The implanted cell sheet maintained its transparency and the cells were alive a week after implantation. Conclusion: These results suggest that carrier-free sheets fabricated of FCSCs have the potential to repair damaged corneal surfaces.
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