New stem cell sorting method

A novel way of collecting limbal stem cells holds potential for the treatment of corneal disease


Progress in rapidly selecting stem cells from a mixed group of corneal cells could aid the treatment of corneal disease, according to new research.

Developments in corneal transplant technology allow for the cornea to be repaired by implanting limbal stem cells (LSCs) to prompt regeneration.

However, at present only transplanted tissues that contain a sufficiently high percentage of LSCs can be used.

Research published in Biophysical Journal offers a possible solution, meaning that a corneal transplant could be generated from donor tissue, regardless of the LSC percentage.

Researchers analysed biomechanical characteristics that can be used to separate out LSCs from other cells.  

LSCs were found to be softer and more pliable than other cells. Using this knowledge, researchers developed a microfluidic sorting device capable of filtering out specific cells from a tissue sample.

University of Georgia associate professor of cellular biology, James Lauderdale, told OT that the findings could allow clinicians to generate corneal transplants with sufficiently high levels of LSCs, irrespective of the LSC percentage in the donor tissue.

“The development of microfluidic devices to enrich LSCs will potentially open up new avenues for the treatment of corneal disease,” Mr Lauderdale explained.

The new technology also allows for the collection of LSCs from patients with genetic disease, which can then be modified to correct for the genetic mutation.

“Conceptually, these modified cells could then be used to treat the individual’s corneal condition without the need for donor tissues,” Mr Lauderdale highlighted.

The next step for researchers is to test the ability of the sorted LSCs to repair the cornea of a rabbit with LSC deficiency.