Evaluation of fibroin-based scaffolds for ocular tissue reconstruction

Bray, Laura Jane (2012) Evaluation of fibroin-based scaffolds for ocular tissue reconstruction. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


The epithelium of the corneolimbus contains stem cells for regenerating the corneal epithelium. Diseases and injuries affecting the limbus can lead to a condition known as limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD), which results in loss of the corneal epithelium, and subsequent chronic inflammation and scarring of the ocular surface. Advances in the treatment of LSCD have been achieved through use of cultured human limbal epithelial (HLE) grafts to restore epithelial stem cells of the ocular surface. These epithelial grafts are usually produced by the ex vivo expansion of HLE cells on human donor amniotic membrane (AM), but this is not without limitations. Although AM is the most widely accepted substratum for HLE transplantation, donor variation, risk of disease transfer, and rising costs have led to the search for alternative biomaterials to improve the surgical outcome of LSCD. Recent studies have demonstrated that Bombyx mori silk fibroin (hereafter referred to as fibroin) membranes support the growth of primary HLE cells, and thus this thesis aims to explore the possibility of using fibroin as a biomaterial for ocular surface reconstruction.

Optimistically, the grafted sheets of cultured epithelium would provide a replenishing source of epithelial progenitor cells for maintaining the corneal epithelium, however, the HLE cells lose their progenitor cell characteristics once removed from their niche. More severe ocular surface injuries, which result in stromal scarring, damage the epithelial stem cell niche, which subsequently leads to poor corneal re-epithelialisation post-grafting. An ideal solution to repairing the corneal limbus would therefore be to grow and transplant HLE cells on a biomaterial that also provides a means for replacing underlying stromal cells required to better simulate the normal stem cell niche. The recent discovery of limbal mesenchymal stromal cells (L-MSC) provides a possibility for stromal repair and regeneration, and therefore, this thesis presents the use of fibroin as a possible biomaterial to support a three dimensional tissue engineered corneolimbus with both an HLE and underlying L-MSC layer. Investigation into optimal scaffold design is necessary, including adequate separation of epithelial and stromal layers, as well as direct cell-cell contact.

Firstly, the attachment, morphology and phenotype of HLE cells grown on fibroin were directly compared to that observed on donor AM, the current clinical standard substrate for HLE transplantation. The production, transparency, and permeability of fibroin membranes were also evaluated in this part of the study. Results revealed that fibroin membranes could be routinely produced using a custom-made film casting table and were found to be transparent and permeable. Attachment of HLE cells to fibroin after 4 hours in serum-free medium was similar to that supported by tissue culture plastic but approximately 6-fold less than that observed on AM. While HLE cultured on AM displayed superior stratification, epithelia constructed from HLE on fibroin maintained evidence of corneal phenotype (cytokeratin pair 3/12 expression; CK3/12) and displayed a comparable number and distribution of ÄNp63+ progenitor cells to that seen in cultures grown on AM. These results confirm the suitability of membranes constructed from silk fibroin as a possible substrate for HLE cultivation.

One of the most important aspects in corneolimbal tissue engineering is to consider the reconstruction of the limbal stem cell niche to help form the natural limbus in situ. MSC with similar properties to bone marrow derived-MSC (BM-MSC) have recently been grown from the limbus of the human cornea. This thesis evaluated methods for culturing L-MSC and limbal keratocytes using various serum-free media. The phenotype of resulting cultures was examined using photography, flow cytometry for CD34 (keratocyte marker), CD45 (bone marrow-derived cell marker), CD73, CD90, CD105 (collectively MSC markers), CD141 (epithelial/vascular endothelial marker), and CD271 (neuronal marker), immunocytochemistry (alpha-smooth muscle actin; á-sma), differentiation assays (osteogenesis, adipogenesis and chrondrogenesis), and co-culture experiments with HLE cells. While all techniques supported to varying degrees establishment of keratocyte and L-MSC cultures, sustained growth and serial propagation was only achieved in serum-supplemented medium or the MesenCult-XF„¥ culture system (Stem Cell Technologies). Cultures established in MesenCult-XF„¥ grew faster than those grown in serum-supplemented medium and retained a more optimal MSC phenotype. L-MSC cultivated in MesenCult-XFR were also positive for CD141, rarely expressed £-sma, and displayed multi-potency. L-MSC supported growth of HLE cells, with the largest epithelial islands being observed in the presence of L-MSC established in MesenCult-XF„¥ medium. All HLE cultures supported by L-MSC widely expressed the progenitor cell marker £GNp63, along with the corneal differentiation marker CK3/12. Our findings conclude that MesenCult-XFR is a superior culture system for L-MSC, but further studies are required to explore the significance of CD141 expression in these cells.

Following on from the findings of the previous two parts, silk fibroin was tested as a novel dual-layer construct containing both an epithelium and underlying stroma for corneolimbal reconstruction. In this section, the growth and phenotype of HLE cells on non-porous versus porous fibroin membranes was compared. Furthermore, the growth of L-MSC in either serum-supplemented medium or the MesenCult-XFR culture system within fibroin fibrous mats was investigated. Lastly, the co-culture of HLE and L-MSC in serum-supplemented medium on and within fibroin dual-layer constructs was also examined. HLE on porous membranes displayed a flattened and squamous monolayer; in contrast, HLE on non-porous fibroin appeared cuboidal and stratified closer in appearance to a normal corneal epithelium. Both constructs maintained CK3/12 expression and distribution of £GNp63+ progenitor cells. Dual-layer fibroin scaffolds consisting of HLE cells and L-MSC maintained a similar phenotype as on the single layers alone.

Overall, the present study proposed to create a three dimensional limbal tissue substitute of HLE cells and L-MSC together, ultimately for safe and beneficial transplantation back into the human eye. The results show that HLE and L-MSC can be cultivated separately and together whilst maintaining a clinically feasible phenotype containing a majority of progenitor cells. In addition, L-MSC were able to be cultivated routinely in the MesenCult-XF® culture system while maintaining a high purity for the MSC characteristic phenotype. However, as a serum-free culture medium was not found to sustain growth of both HLE and L-MSC, the combination scaffold was created in serum-supplemented medium, indicating that further refinement of this cultured limbal scaffold is required. This thesis has also demonstrated a potential novel marker for L-MSC, and has generated knowledge which may impact on the understanding of stromal-epithelial interactions. These results support the feasibility of a dual-layer tissue engineered corneolimbus constructed from silk fibroin, and warrant further studies into the potential benefits it offers to corneolimbal tissue regeneration.

Further refinement of this technology should explore the potential benefits of using epithelial-stromal co-cultures with MesenCult-XF® derived L-MSC. Subsequent investigations into the effects of long-term culture on the phenotype and behaviour of the cells in the dual-layer scaffolds are also required. While this project demonstrated the feasibility in vitro for the production of a dual-layer tissue engineered corneolimbus, further studies are required to test the efficacy of the limbal scaffold in vivo. Future in vivo studies are essential to fully understand the integration and degradation of silk fibroin biomaterials in the cornea over time. Subsequent experiments should also investigate the use of both AM and silk fibroin with epithelial and stromal cell co-cultures in an animal model of LSCD.

The outcomes of this project have provided a foundation for research into corneolimbal reconstruction using biomaterials and offer a stepping stone for future studies into corneolimbal tissue engineering.

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ID Code: 52665
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Harkin, Damien, Chirila, Traian, & Hutmacher, Dietmar
Keywords: limbus, cornea, limbal stem cell deficiency, epithelium, stroma, mesenchymal stromal cells, silk fibroin, transplantation, ocular surface
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Biomedical Sciences
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 23 Jul 2012 05:30
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015 02:14

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