For the first time, ‘electrospinning’ has been used to create a 3D scaffold upon which retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells can grow and survive for up to 150 days. The research out of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and published in Materials and Design, may revolutionise treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD can be caused by changes in Bruch’s membrane, which supports the RPE cells, and breakdown of the choriocapillaris, the rich vascular bed that is adjacent to the other side of the Bruch’s membrane.
Using these new techniques, the cell line has been shown to thrive in the 3D environment provided by the scaffolds
In Western populations, the most common way sight deteriorates is due to an accumulation of drusen – or lipid deposits – and the subsequent degeneration of parts of the RPE, the choriocapillaris and outer retina. In developing countries, AMD tends to be caused by abnormal blood vessel growth in the choroid and their subsequent movement into the RPE cells, leading to haemorrhaging, RPE or retinal detachment and scar formation.
Led by Professor Barbara Pierscionek, Deputy Dean (Research and Innovation) at ARU, researchers cultured human RPE cell lines (ARPE-19) on ultrathin suspended electrospun nanofibre scaffolds (ENS) composed of hydrophobic polymer polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and a water-soluble aliphatic diamine, without (untreated) or with (treated) fluocinolone acetonide (FA), which protects against inflammation.
They found that when the scaffold was treated with FA, the resilience of the cells appeared to increase, promoting growth of eye cells, and retaining their characteristic morphology for up to 150 days.
The researchers said their findings could revolutionise treatment for AMD and lead to the development of ocular tissue for transplantation into the patient’s eye.
Study author Professor Barbara Pierscionek, Deputy Dean (Research and Innovation) at ARU, said, “This research has demonstrated, for the first time, that nanofibre scaffolds treated with the anti-inflammatory substance such as fluocinolone acetonide can enhance the growth, differentiation, and functionality of RPE cells.
“In the past, scientists would grow cells on a flat surface, which is not biologically relevant. Using these new techniques, the cell line has been shown to thrive in the 3D environment provided by the scaffolds.
“This system shows great potential for development as a substitute Bruch’s membrane, providing a synthetic, non-toxic, biostable support for transplantation of the retinal pigment epithelial cells. Pathological changes in this membrane have been identified as a cause of eye diseases such as AMD, making this an exciting breakthrough that could potentially help millions of people worldwide.”
The peer-reviewed, open-access research has been published in the journal Materials & Design.
Biola F., Egbowon., Fornari E., Pierscionek, B.K., et al., Retinal pigment epithelial cells can be cultured on fluocinolone acetonide treated nanofibrous scaffold, Materials & Design, Volume 232, 2023, doi.org/10.1016/j.matdes.2023.112152.