Dr Karl Brown, from the Centre For Eye Research Australia’s Corneal Research Unit, has received a four-year research fellowship from The DHB Foundation which will enable him to trial growing corneal endothelia in the lab using a patient’s own cells. The hope is the technology could eliminate the need for donated corneas in transplant surgery and overcome the problem of transplant rejection which occurs in some recipients.
The technology could also enable cells from one donor to be grown into many transplants to help people in countries where there are major shortages of donor tissue.
Dr Brown hopes that eventually, the use of stem cell technology and tissue engineering could eliminate the need to use donors for treatment of corneal endothelial disease.
Dr Brown is working closely with CERA’s Principal Investigator Corneal Research Associate Professor Mark Daniell to engineer the new approach to corneal transplants.
In recent years they have collaborated with colleagues from the University of Melbourne to develop a hydrogel film which helps prevent damage to fragile donor corneal endothelium during transplant surgery.
The next phase of research builds on this technology by adding donor cells to the gel film to grow new corneal tissue.
Researchers will also investigate whether corneal endothelial cells grown from induced pluripotent stem cells – which are produced from adult cells – can be incorporated into the engineered corneal endothelium.
If successful, this could create an almost unlimited supply of tissue for transplant.