3D corneal construction using stem cells

June 17, 2009

Producing 3D human corneal tissue using corneal limbal stem cells with a view to developing and commercialising novel technology has potential to transform drug discovery and regenerative medicine.

Producing 3D human corneal tissue using corneal limbal stem cells with a view to developing and commercialising novel technology has potential to transform drug discovery and regenerative medicine. This is now a reality and will be undertaken over a three-year period by scientists on the RAFT project (Rapid Automated Fabrication of Tissues) at UCL (University College London) and The Automation Partnership (TAP).

Scientists will work on demonstrating pre-clinical proof of concept of the efficacy of these tissues for corneal regeneration. Complex 3D tissues can be produced in less than one hour by mixing cells with collagen, casting the gel into a mould then compressing it to give a sheet with properties very like natural tissue. The 3D structure provides cells with a more natural microenvironment; multiple layers with different cell types can be made with surface features that mimic the stem cell niche and support cell growth and differentiation.

Since production of the tissues will be automated the size, shape, thickness and cell density can all be controlled — and complex features such as capillary like channels can be engineered into the tissues.

Dr Rosemary Drake, CSO at TAP said: "We are so confident it could be used to produce a number of different 3D tissue types and are seeking additional partners from pharmaceutical or cell culture companies with whom we can develop cell culture, drug discovery and therapeutic applications where more authentic tissues are required."

David Newble, TAP's CEO, added: "The significant industrial academic collaboration which has begun between TAP and UCL will make transformational science available for rapid, reproducible processing of commercially important tissues and could potentially, have a major impact on the future of drug discovery, development and regenerative medicine."