Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


Three-Dimensional Reconstruction of Human Corneas by Tissue Engineering (CORNEA ENGINEERING) - Publishable Final Activity Report

Project ID: 504017
Funded under: FP6-NMP


Approximately 10 million people worldwide are blind as a result of corneal diseases. At the moment, the only generally available treatment option is to replace corneas using donor tissue. In Europe, approximately 25,000 such operations are carried out each year. But there is an increasing risk of disease transmission from donor tissue and furthermore the growing use of laser corrective surgery renders corneas unsuitable for grafting. These factors, together with the limited applications of synthetic polymer based artificial corneas (keratoprostheses), point to the urgent need to develop tissue engineered corneas for clinical applications. In addition, following recent European Directives banning the use of animals for toxicity testing, there is an urgent requirement to develop in vitro alternatives to the widely used Draize eye test.
The cornea is a specialised connective tissue whose structure is adapted to its principal functions of focussing light and resisting intraocular pressure (Fig. 1). This is achieved by the multi-layer organisation of the stroma (about 500 mu m thick) which consists of about 200 layers consisting of cells (keratocytes) surrounded by a dense extracellular matrix (ECM). Within each layer, narrow diameter collagen fibrils are aligned in parallel, separated by proteoglycans and other ECM components. Between successive layers, there is an abrupt change in orientation giving rise to a plywood-like structure. The stroma is covered on the external surface by a stratified epithelium, made of keratinocytes, and on the internal surface by a layer of endothelial cells.

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