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 Exp Eye Res. 2024 Feb 3:109815. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2024.109815. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 38316204.

Impact of culture media on primary human corneal endothelial cells derived from old donors

Authors: Alessia Merra 1Eleonora Maurizi 2Graziella Pellegrini 1

Affiliation:

  1. Holostem Terapie Avanzate S.r.l., Modena, Italy; Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy.
  2. Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy. Electronic address: eleonora.maurizi@unimore.it.

Abstract:

Corneal endothelial dysfunction is a major indication for corneal transplantation. However, a global shortage of donor corneal tissues and risks associated with corneal surgeries have prompted exploration of alternative options, including tissue-engineered grafts or cell injection therapy. Nonetheless, these approaches require a controlled culture of primary human corneal endothelial cells (HCEnCs). Although HCEnCs established from young donors are generally more proliferative and maintain a better phenotype, corneas from old donors are more frequently accessible from eye banks due to a lower corneal endothelial cell count than the necessary threshold required for transplantation. In this study, we investigated various culture media to evaluate which one is the most appropriate for stimulating the proliferation while maintaining cell morphology and function of HCEnCs derived from old donors (age >65 years). All experiments were performed on paired research-grade donor corneas, divided for the conditions under investigation in order to minimize the inter-donor variability. Cell morphology as well as expression of specific markers were assessed at both mRNA (CD166, SLC4A11, ATP1A1, COL8A1, α-SMA, CD44, COL1A1, CDKN2A, LAP2A and LAP2B) and protein (ZO-1, α-SMA, Ki67 and LAP2) levels. Results obtained showed how the Dual Media formulation maintained the hexagonal phenotype more efficiently than Single Medium, but cell size gradually increased with passages. In contrast, the Single Medium provided a higher proliferation rate and a prolonged in vitro expansion but acquired an elongated morphology. To summarize, Single medium and Dual media preserve morphology and functional phenotype of HCEnCs from old donor corneas at low passages while maintenance of the same cell features at high passages remains an active area of research. The new insights revealed within this work become particularly relevant considering that the elderly population a) is the main target of corneal endothelial therapy, b) represents the majority of corneal donors. Therefore, the proper expansion of HCEnCs from old donors is essential to develop novel personalised therapeutic strategies and reduce requirement of human corneal tissues globally.

Keywords: Cell culture; Cell therapy; Old donor corneas; Primary human corneal endothelial cells; Regenerative biology

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