Scientists have found a way to create eye tissue using stem cells and 3D printing – in new research that could lead to breakthroughs in treating a range of degenerative eye diseases.
A team of researchers from the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, have printed a combination of cells that form the outer blood-retinal barrier, an eye tissue that supports the retina’s light-sensitive photoreceptors .
Their technique provides a theoretically unlimited supply of patient-derived tissue to study degenerative retinal diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – and use them to better understand how to treat or cure these diseases.
“We know that AMD begins in the outer blood-retinal barrier,” said Kapil Bharti, Ph.D., who directs the NEI Section on Translational Eye and Stem Cell Research.
Scientists have found a way to create eye tissue – in new research that could lead to breakthroughs in treating a range of degenerative eye diseases
“However, the mechanisms of AMD initiation and progression to the advanced dry and wet stages remain poorly understood due to the lack of physiologically relevant human models,” he explained in a statement.
The outer blood-retinal barrier of the eye consists of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), which is separated by Bruch’s membrane from the choriocapillaris. The membrane regulates how nutrients and wastes are moved between the RPE and the choriocapillaries.
In people with AMD, lipoprotein deposits called drusen form on the outside of Bruch’s membrane, preventing it from working properly.
Nearly 20 million Americans suffer from some form of age-related macular degeneration. It is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 and older. it is also the leading cause of irreversible blindness and vision loss worldwide.
“Our collaborative efforts have resulted in highly relevant retinal tissue models for degenerative eye disease,” said co-author Marc Ferrer, director of the 3D Tissue Bioprinting Laboratory at the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.
“These tissue models have many potential uses in translational applications, including therapeutic development.”
Bharti and colleagues combined three types of immature choroidal cells in a hydrogel: pericytes and endothelial cells, which are key components of capillaries; and fibroblasts, which structure tissues.
Then they printed the gel on a biodegradable scaffold, and within days the cells began to mature into a dense capillary network.
On the ninth day, the scientists seeded retinal pigment epithelial cells on the other side of the scaffold. A little over a month later, the fabric has reached full maturity.
The outer blood-retinal barrier is the interface of the retina and the choroid, including Bruch’s membrane and the choriocapillaris.
The printed tissue looked and behaved the same as the native outer blood-retinal barrier, according to the researchers’ analysis and testing.
Under induced stress, the printed tissue exhibited patterns of early AMD such as drusen deposits under the RPE and progression to late stage dry AMD.
“By printing cells, we facilitate the exchange of cellular cues necessary for the normal anatomy of the outer blood-retinal barrier,” Bharti explained.
“For example, the presence of RPE cells induces changes in gene expression in fibroblasts that contribute to the formation of Bruch’s membrane, which was suggested many years ago but has not been proven before. our model.
The scientists published the results of their work today in Nature Methods.
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