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Collagen-based scaffolds for cornea tissue engineering

Vrana, Nihal Engin
In this study, collagen based scaffolds were prepared for cornea tissue engineering. Three different cell carriers (rat tail collagen foam, insoluble collagen foam and patterned collagen film) were produced using two different collagen sources. Scaffolds were designed to mimic the unique topographical features of the corneal stroma. A novel crosslinking method was developed to achieve constant foam thickness. All scaffolds were tested with the primary cells of the native corneal stroma, human keratocytes. Although both foams promoted cell growth and penetration, rat tail foams were found to be superior for keratocyte proliferation. Their degradation rates were high enough but did not compromise their structural integrity during testing. Transparency studies with the foams revealed a progressive improvement. Collagen films degraded significantly over a one month period; however, the presence of cells increased the tensile strength of the films over a 21 day period to close to that of the native cornea and compensated for the loss of strength due to degradation. The micropatterned films proved to have higher transparency than the unpatterned scaffolds. In this study, it was possible to prepare collagen based micropatterned scaffolds using a silicon wafer and then a silicone template, successively, starting from original designs. The resultant collagen films were able to control cell growth through contact guidance, restricted cells and secreted-ECM within the pattern grooves, resulting in a higher transparency in comparison to unpatterned films. Thus, the tissue engineered constructs revealed a significant potential for use as total artificial corneal substitutes.