Purpose: To examine the viability of using human amniotic membrane as substrate for culturing corneal epithelial cells and transplanting them onto severely injured rabbit eyes.
Methods: An ocular-surface injury was created in the right eye of eight rabbits by a lamellar keratectomy extending 5 mm outside the limbus. Next, from the limbal region of the uninjured left eyes of five of these animals, a small biopsy of corneal epithelial cells was taken and cultured on acellular human amniotic membrane. One month later, the invading conjunctiva that covered the corneal surface of all eight injured eyes was surgically removed. Five of the eyes then received grafts of amniotic membrane containing autologous cultured epithelial cells, whereas the other three received grafts of acellular amniotic membrane alone.
Results: A confluent primary culture of limbal corneal epithelial cells was established on acellular human amniotic membrane after 14 days. Cells were partially stratified and fairly well attached to the underlying amniotic membrane, although a fully formed basement membrane was not evident. The three rabbits that received amniotic membrane transplantation alone all had total epithelial defects on the graft in the early postoperative period. Eyes that were grafted with amniotic membrane that contained cultivated epithelial cells, however, were all successfully epithelialized up to 5 days after surgery.
Conclusion: Autologous transplantation of cultivated corneal epithelium is feasible by using acellular amniotic membrane as a carrier.