Bioengineers at UT Dallas with collaborators at UT Southwestern Medical Center were able to create corneal tissue models and utilize them to study how damaged eyes heal.
Corneal keratocytes are programmed to assist if the eye is injured. The cornea is composed of threadlike collagen fibrils, arranged in a criss-cross pattern to guide keratocytes to the site of injury. However, for reasons that are not yet understood, the natural healing process can sometimes fail, resulting in scarring or blindness.
In order to build a model of corneal tissue to study this problem, the researchers utilized a microfluidic device. Type I collagen is injected into the channels of the microfluidic device, and it polymerizes through the channels into a thread about the same diameter as a human hair. The fibrils are deposited onto glass coverslips, resulting in aligned collagen fibrils, similar to those present in corneal tissue.
The researchers studied how keratocytes interact with different collagen fibril structures. They found that normal rabbit keratocytes placed onto high density aligned collagen fibrils tended to stretch out along with the collagen fibrils. However, when the cells were cultured on low-density collagen fibrils, they showed no preferential orientation.
Future research leveraging this model could help develop therapies
aimed at reducing corneal scarring or develop tissue replacements.
“How keratocytes repair tissue and why, in some cases, they leave scar tissue, is not well understood,” said Dr. David Schmidtke, professor of bioengineering at UT Dallas. “We came up with a way to mimic an injury model, so we can look at how the cells respond when there is a wound.”
The study in journal Biomedical Microdevices: A high-throughput microfluidic method for fabricating aligned collagen fibrils to study Keratocyte behavior