Scientists, led by Professor Barbara Pierscionek from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), have achieved a groundbreaking milestone in the field of ocular research. Using nanotechnology, they have successfully created a 3D "scaffold" to grow retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, which could revolutionize the treatment of a common cause of blindness.
The research focuses on age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the developed world, projected to affect 77 million Europeans by 2050 due to an aging population. AMD is characterized by changes in the Bruch's membrane, supporting the RPE cells, and the breakdown of the adjacent choriocapillaris, a crucial vascular bed.
The team's breakthrough involves employing the technology of "electrospinning" to develop a scaffold where RPE cells can thrive. By treating this scaffold with a steroid called fluocinolone acetonide, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, the resilience of the cells is enhanced, promoting their growth. Remarkably, the cultivated RPE cells remain healthy and viable for an impressive duration of up to 150 days.
This advancement holds great promise for the future development of ocular tissue transplantation, presenting an efficient and effective method to treat AMD and related vision impairments. When implanted into the patient's eye, the engineered RPE cells could potentially restore and improve vision for those suffering from the condition.
The researchers' findings, published in Materials & Design, mark the first successful use of electrospinning to create such a scaffold for RPE cell growth, signifying a significant step towards advancing ocular therapies.
With the prevalence of AMD on the rise, especially in aging populations, the need for innovative treatments has never been more urgent. By addressing the root cause and offering a viable solution to replace damaged RPE cells, this nanotechnology-based approach could change the landscape of AMD treatment and offer new hope to millions worldwide.
"This research has demonstrated, for the first time, that nanofiber scaffolds treated with the anti-inflammatory substance such as fluocinolone acetonide can enhance the growth, differentiation, and functionality of RPE cells. In the past, scientists would grow cells on a flat surface, which is not biologically relevant. Using these new techniques. the cell line has been shown to thrive in the 3D environment provided by the scaffolds,” said study author Professor Barbara Pierscionek, Deputy Dean (Research and Innovation) at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).
"This system shows great potential for development as a substitute Bruch's membrane, providing a synthetic, non-toxic, biostable support for transplantation of the retinal pigment epithelial cells. Pathological changes in this membrane have been identified as a cause of eye diseases such as AMD, making this an exciting breakthrough that could potentially help millions of people worldwide."
Biola F. Egbowon et al, Retinal pigment epithelial cells can be cultured on fluocinolone acetonide treated nanofibrous scaffold, Materials & Design (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.matdes.2023.112152