Introduction: Cornea is a transparent, robust tissue that comprises highly organized cells. Disruption of this specialized tissue can lead to scarring and subsequent blindness, making corneal damage a considerable challenge worldwide. At present, the available medical treatments are unable to address the wide range of corneal diseases. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have increasingly been investigated for their regenerative effect on ocular surface injury due to their unique ability for growth factor production, anti-inflammatory activity, immunomodulatory capacity and differentiation into multiple cell lineages.
Areas covered: Within this review, we explore the pathogenesis of corneal disorders in response to injury and disease, and the potential for MSCs to modulate this process as a treatment. Through the review of over 25 animal studies, we investigate the common mechanisms of action by which MSCs have their effect and discuss their potential for treating and/or preventing corneal deterioration
Expert opinion: Depending on the environmental cues, MSCs can exert a potent effect on corneal wound healing through reducing opacity and vascularization, whilst promoting re-epithelialization. Whilst their mechanism is multifactorial, it seems clear that the anti-inflammatory/immunomodulatory factors they produce in response to damage are key to their control of cellular milieu and improving healing outcomes.
Keywords: Cornea; anti-inflammatory; cell therapy; growth factors; immunomodulatory; mesenchymal stromal/stem cells.