Recent advances in corneal regeneration and possible application of embryonic stem cell-derived corneal epithelial cells

Clin Ophthalmol. 2007 Dec;1(4):373-82.


The depletion of limbal stem cells due to various diseases leads to corneal opacification and visual loss. The unequivocal identification and isolation of limbal stem cells may be a considerable advantage because long-term, functional recovery of corneal epithelium is linked to graft constructs that retain viable stem cell populations. As specific markers of limbal stem cells, the ATP-binding cassette, sub-family G, member2 (ABCG2), a member of the multiple drug-resistance (MDR) family of membrane transporters which leads to a side population phenotype, and transcription factor p63 were proposed recently. Conventional corneal transplantation is not applicable for patients with limbal stem cells deficiency, because the conventional allograft lacks limbal stem cells. The introduction of limbal epithelial cell transplantation was a major advance in the therapeutic techniques for reconstruction of the corneal surface. Limbal epithelial cell transplantation is clinically conducted when cultured allografts as well as autografts are available; however, allografts have a risk of immunologic rejection and autografts are hardly available for patients with bilateral ocular surface disorders. Embryonic stem (ES) cells are characterized by their capacity to proliferate indefinitely and to differentiate into any cell type. We induced corneal epithelial cells from ES cells by culturing them on type IV collagen or alternatively, by introduction of the pax6 gene into ES cells. Recent advances in our study supports the possibility of their clinical use as a cell source for reconstruction of the damaged corneal surface. This review summarizes the recent advances in corneal regeneration therapies and the possible application of ES cell-derived corneal epithelial cells.

Keywords: corneal epithelial cell; embryonic stem cell; limbal stem cell; transplantation.