Artificially Grown Corneas Could Be Used for Transplants and Drug, Cosmetic Testing
Dec. 9, 1999 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) -- A team of scientists has grown artificial
human corneas that look and function much like real ones, according to an
article in the Dec. 10 issue of Science.
"These corneas have the potential to eliminate the need for live animals
in toxicity testing of new drugs and cosmetics and, in the near future, we hope
to develop a cornea that can be transplanted into people's eyes," lead
researcher May Griffith, PhD, tells WebMD.
Griffith, a cell biologist at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute, and
Mitchell Watsky, MD, of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in
Memphis, and their colleagues used cultured human cornea cells to grow
"functional human corneal equivalents," according to the report.
"The corneal equivalents look and function like real corneas," says
Griffith, an assistant professor and associate research scientist who has spent
five years working on the project. "They have the same microscopic
structure and transparency as natural human corneas."
The corneal equivalents could be a boon for people who suffer corneal
disease or corneal injuries. The waiting list for corneal transplants, in most
geographical areas, is long.
"We hope to ultimately solve that problem," says Griffith.
Another goal of the research was to develop eye tissue that resembles human
eye tissue so completely that it could be used as a replacement for animal
testing. "If it looks like a cornea and reacts like a cornea we will have
accomplished that goal," says Griffith.
Alan Goldberg, MD, PhD, tells WebMD, "One of the things we have not had
is a three-dimensional construct of the human cornea. This, according to my
reading of the paper, is the first scientific demonstration of a 3-D construct
that shows a biological response to a toxic exposure. It offers the possibility
of being used as replacement tissue, as well being used for biological
Goldman, director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the
Johns Hopkins Univerisity School of Public Health, puts emphasis on the word
"possibility." He points out that the researchers have to demonstrate
two things: they have to confirm that functional human corneal equivalents
respond the same way that natural human corneas do and they have to learn how
to mass produce them.
"The study has a lot of potential, but this technique is not ready for
use at the present time," says David R. Whikehart, PhD, in an interview
seeking an objective assessment of the study.
"Their 'immortalized' cells are expected to grow continuously.
Unfortunately what often develops in such cells are chromosomal
abnormalities," says Whikehart, a professor at the Vision Science Research
Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He doubts whether such cells
could function as normal corneal cells.