Human pluripotent stem cells offer a new approach for corneal reconstruction

Limbal epithelial stem cells (LESCs) derived from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) offer new ways of treating corneal damage. In collaboration with the University of Szeged in Hungary, a group of researchers from the BioMediTech Institute and the School of Medicine at the University of Tampere in Finland have shown that LESCs are similar to their native counterparts.

An article on the research results was recently published in the international journal Scientific Reports.

The surface of the transparent cornea is constantly renewed by LESCs, which reside within a narrow transition zone surrounding the cornea. Acute trauma or a chronic disease affecting LESCs may disrupt corneal epithelial renewal and cause blood vessels to spread over the cornea. This can result in painful and vision-threatening ocular surface disorders. In this case, traditional corneal transplantation is not a viable treatment strategy because corneal grafts do not contain LESCs. Alternative cell sources, such as hPSCs, are therefore needed for successful cell-based therapy. However, a critical evaluation of hPSC-derived LESCs is crucial before proceeding to clinical applications.

In this study, LESCs differentiated from hPSCs were compared to their native counterparts using mass spectrometry-based proteomics. This highly sensitive method enables the detection of even minor differences in protein expression between the studied samples.

The research demonstrated that LESCs differentiated from hPSCs are similar to the native ocular surface epithelial cells.

“In the future, LESCs differentiated from hPSCs could potentially be used to treat severe ocular surface disorders,” says doctoral student Alexandra Mikhailova of the Eye Group at the BioMediTech Institute.

The aim of the Eye Group is to develop novel stem cell-based methods for treating corneal and retinal disorders and to create cell culture models of these tissues in laboratory conditions.

Mikhailova, Alexandra, Jylhä, Antti, Rieck, Jochen et al.: Comparative proteomics reveals human pluripotent stem cell-derived limbal epithelial stem cells are similar to native ocular surface epithelial cells.
Scientific Reports 5, Article number 14684 (2015). doi: 10.1038/srep14684

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Doctoral student Alexandra Mikhailova