Corneal endothelial regeneration and tissue engineering

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Human corneal endothelial cells (HCECs) have a limited proliferative capacity. Descemet stripping with automated endothelial keratoplasty (DSAEK) has become the preferred method for the treatment of corneal endothelial deficiency, but it requires a donor cornea. To overcome the shortage of donor corneas, transplantation of cultured HCEC sheets has been attempted in experimental studies. This review summarizes current knowledge about the mechanisms of corneal endothelial wound healing and about tissue engineering for the corneal endothelium. We also discuss recent work on tissue engineering for DSAEK grafts using cultured HCECs and HCEC precursor cell isolation method (the sphere-forming assay). DSAEK grafts (HCEC sheets) were constructed by seeding cultured HCECs on human amniotic membrane, thin human corneal stroma, and collagen sheets. The pump function of the HCEC sheets thus obtained was approximately 75%–95% of that for human donor corneas. HCEC sheets were transplanted onto rabbit corneas after DSAEK. While the untransplanted control group displayed severe stromal edema, the transplanted group had clear corneas throughout the observation period. The sphere-forming assay using donor human corneal endothelium or cultured HCECs can achieved mass production of human corneal endothelial precursors. These findings indicate that cultured HCECs transplanted after DSAEK can perform effective corneal dehydration in vivo and suggest the feasibility of employing the transplantation of cultured HCECs to treat endothelial dysfunction. Additionally, corneal endothelial precursors may be an effective strategy for corneal endothelial regeneration.

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