Corneal stem cells and tissue engineering: Current advances and future perspectives.
Major advances are currently being made in regenerative medicine for cornea. Stem cell-based therapies represent a novel strategy that may substitute conventional corneal transplantation, albeit there are many challenges ahead given the singularities of each cellular layer of the cornea. This review recapitulates the current data on corneal epithelial stem cells, corneal stromal stem cells and corneal endothelial cell progenitors. Corneal limbal autografts containing epithelial stem cells have been transplanted in humans for more than 20 years with great successful rates, and researchers now focus on ex vivo cultures and other cell lineages to transplant to the ocular surface. A small population of cells in the corneal endothelium was recently reported to have self-renewal capacity, although they do not proliferate in vivo. Two main obstacles have hindered endothelial cell transplantation to date: culture protocols and cell delivery methods to the posterior cornea in vivo.
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