Student Co-author

HMC Undergraduate

Document Type



Biology (HMC), Engineering (HMC), Physics (HMC)

Publication Date



Corneal blindness is a significant problem treated primarily by corneal transplants. Donor tissue supply is low, creating a growing need for an alternative. A tissue-engineered cornea made from patient-derived cells and biopolymer scaffold materials would be widely accessible to all patients and would alleviate the need for donor sources. Previous work in this lab led to a method for electrospinning type I collagen scaffolds for culturing corneal fibroblasts ex vivo that mimics the microenvironment in the native cornea. This electrospun scaffold is composed of small-diameter, aligned collagen fibers. In this study, we investigate the effect of scaffold nanostructure and composition on the phenotype of corneal stromal cells. Rabbit-derived corneal fibroblasts were cultured on aligned and unaligned collagen type I fibers ranging from 50 to 300 nm in diameter and assessed for expression of α-smooth muscle actin, a protein marker upregulated in hazy corneas. In addition, the optical properties of the cell–matrix constructs were assessed using optical coherence microscopy. Cells grown on collagen scaffolds had reduced myofibroblast phenotype expression compared to cells grown on tissue culture plates. Cells grown on aligned collagen type I fibers downregulated α-smooth muscle actin protein expression significantly more than unaligned collagen scaffolds, and also exhibited reduced overall light scattering by the tissue construct. These results suggest that aligned collagen type I fibrous scaffolds are viable platforms for engineering corneal replacement tissue.

Rights Information

© 2011 Mary Ann Liebert