Autologous Cultured Corneal Epithelium

Autologous Cultured Corneal Epithelium

Corneal epithelium forms the outermost layer of the cornea in the eye. Within the corneal epithelium, stem cells are found in the region called the limbus on the border between the cornea and the conjunctiva. In cases of severe injury to the cornea, as long as even a small patch of healthy limbus remains, corneal epithelial stem cells can be isolated from this limbal tissue and cultured to produce autologous cultured corneal epithelium. Transplanting this tissue makes it possible for patients to recover their vision unheard of with conventional treatments.

Cultured Corneal Epithelium


When the limbus is damaged the conjunctiva invade the cornea, resulting in scarring (conjunctivalization) of the cornea. Even transplantation of a cornea from a deceased donor has not proved a successful means of treatment, as the absence of limbal stem cells results in the worsening of symptoms. In 1997, Italian researchers Dr. Graziella Pellegrini and Dr. Michele De Luca demonstrated for the first time that transplanting cultured corneal epithelium into such patients suppressed the invasion of the conjunctiva to treat this condition.1) J-TEC has introduced the techniques developed by Dr. Pellegrini and her team for the development of cultured corneal epithelium.
1) Pellegrini G. et al., Lancet, 349, 990-993(1997).


A 1-mm2 sample of the patient's own limbal tissue is taken, and cultured by the same method used to produce cultured epidermis. In other words, cells are enzymatically isolated from limbal tissue, and the isolated cells are cultured together with mouse fibroblasts in the same way as for cultured epidermis. In the final stage, corneal epithelial cells are cultured on a gel to produce the finished cultured corneal epithelium.

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Graziella Pellegrini, Ph.D.

A world authority in the field of epithelial cornea stem-cell biology, Prof. Pellegrini established the method of culturing human limbal stem cells for the restoration of damaged cornea incapable of repair through conventional treatment.
She is Professor of Cell Biology, head of Cell Therapy Program of Center for Regenerative Medicine in the Department of Life Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy.

I have advised J-TEC on the cultivation of limbal stem cells for the purpose of restoring severely damaged corneal surfaces. Regenerative medicine involves the restoration of tissues and organs by means of cultured cells (cell therapy). The promising clinical results already achieved in the field of epithelial regeneration by means of cultivated epithelial stem cells have demonstrated the feasibility of this novel therapeutic approach. Similar results are expected relatively soon for the restoration of a variety of other tissues. Eventually, stem-cell-mediated regenerative medicine will prove to be one of the major advances in medicine and, in future, will probably reduce the need for organ and tissue donors.
For this reason, J-TEC is likely to play a major role in the development of regenerative medicine, at least in the field of epithelial regeneration. J-TEC has the proper technology for the cultivation of epithelial stem cells. The implementation of this technology at a commercial level will enable the clinical application of epithelial stem cells to move beyond the boundaries of academic development, and may therefore be expected to have a substantial impact on public healthcare.