The Enhanced Generation of the Corneal Epithelium from Human Induced Pluripotent Stem (hiPS) Cells.

Research details

  • Type of funding: PhD Studentship
  • Grant Holder: Professor Andrew Quantock
  • Institute: Cardiff University
  • Region: Wales
  • Start date: October 2018
  • End Date: June 2022
  • Priority: Treatment
  • Eye Category: Corneal & external

The cells that exist in the tissues of our body have specific functions and are adapted to suit the particular tissue that they form. Embryonic stem cells are unique cells which can go down different developmental pathways and become various kinds of cells. For a long time it was accepted that once a cell had "chosen its path" and differentiated into a particular type of cell, it was irreversible. However, research showed that differentiated adult cells could be reprogrammed using a cocktail of factors that change the cells destiny.

These reprogrammed cells are called iPS cells - induced pluripotent stem cells, which are capable of differentiation into a number of different cell types. Professor Quantock’s collaborators in Japan showed that human iPS (hiPS) cells can form a cellular multi-zone, in which cells in different areas resemble cells of different eye tissues; lens, retina, cornea, when grown in a lab.

Researchers aim to investigate the ability of hiPS to form functional corneal cells using proteoglycans. They will investigate hiPS cells that have developed into corneal epithelial-like tissue.

In the healthy cornea various special types of proteoglycans populate an area of the cornea and help maintain stem cells. The researchers will extract and purify proteoglycans from the cornea and chemically modify them using enzymes.

The modified proteoglycans will then be used to help grow hiPS cell-derived corneal epithelial constructs, to understand what types of proteoglycans or cleaved proteoglycan fragments are important to retain cellular "stemness" and support the generation of a functional corneal epithelium.

This research will highlight the potential future use of hiPS cells for the treatment of eye disease, especially in the treatment for corneal epithelial injury or disease. This discovery is exciting because the cells that most closely resemble a natural corneal epithelium, the front layer of cells on the eye that support the tear film, may be transplanted and remain functional.