Simple solution to growing curved corneas

The transparency and quality of artificial corneas can be improved by placing cells on a dome-shaped surface

25 Oct 2017 by Selina Powell

Researchers have discovered a simple solution to improving the transparency and quality of corneas grown from cells.

Scientists at Newcastle University and the University of California found that when corneal cells were placed on a dome-shaped surface, they grew over the structure in a lattice. 

Newcastle University Professor of Tissue Engineering and lead researcher, Che Connon, told OT that getting cells to align was crucial.

“We have aligned cells previously using more sophisticated and complicated methods, but we found that simply by growing them on a curved substrate the cells will spontaneously align and the tissue that they finally produce has a curved nature,” he explained.

“This improves transparency and gives it a structure similar to that of a normal cornea,” Professor Connon added. 

The breakthrough has the potential to provide a solution for the shortage of donated human corneal tissues. The method could also provide an alternative to artificial plastic corneas that can be rejected by the body. 

Professor Connon emphasised that the research, published in Advanced Biosystems, is a “big step forward.”

“I think the simplicity of the approach lends itself to more versatile and cost-effective manufacturing processes,” he highlighted.

“The fact that the curved tissue is refracting light means that, for the first time, people can think about engineering corneas with appropriate levels of refraction. With plastic lenses, you can factor that in but with tissue engineering the concept of refracting light has been largely overlooked,” Professor Connon observed.

The research has wide-reaching implications for tissue engineering, with applications outside the world of eye health. 

“Normally in research labs across the world cells are grown on a flat surface – that's the standard. It is quite surprising to see such a remarkable difference when cells were grown on a curved surface,” Professor Connon shared. 

Image credit: Che Connon/Newcastle University

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