Scientists have created a self-curving cornea via a system that lets cells form a particular shape by molding their surrounding material.
Researchers activated a circle of gel with corneal stromal cells so that the edges contracted at a different speed from the center. Over the course of five days, the edges drew themselves up to form a bowl-like structure.
The cells are triggered into forming what the researchers call a 4D structure. The formation is achieved by using cells as biological actuators. In this case, the cells themselves forced the surrounding tissue to move in a pre-determined manner over time.
A gel comprising collagen and encapsulated corneal cells was laid out in two concentric circles. Adding peptide amphiphiles to either one of the circles resulted in the formation of the curved shape.
In one circle, the active cells pulled the gel’s internal structure (high contraction) and in the other they pulled the peptide amphiphile molecules (low contraction). This difference in contraction caused the gel to curve.
Recently, the number of donated corneas has declined, as they cannot be used from anyone who has undergone laser eye surgery. The properties of the 4D structures reproduced those of the native tissue, and the researchers believe the technology holds great potential. Their aim is to refine the technique as a potential method of manufacturing corneas for human transplant.
Source: EurekaAlert!, January 17, 2019