|dc.description||Nowadays, there are approximately 10 million people worldwide with visual impairment due to corneal diseases. Currently, the main therapeutic solution is the transplant of a donor's cornea. The great majority of transplants is due to some failure in the inner layer of the cornea, which is called the corneal endothelium and this is mainly related with the inability of this layer to regenerate in vivo. However, transplants present several limitations such as the low number of healthy donors or immunological rejection by the patient.
In order to overcome these problems, several researchers have focused in culturing corneal endothelial cells (CEC) to subsequently replace non-functional CEC. However, cell therapy is still very recent and still presents a series of drawbacks. For instance, using animal CEC or cells from other patients has shown to lead into immunological rejection. In order to avoid this, it is possible to use stem cells from the same patient, which have the ability to differentiate into many cell types, including the corneal endothelium. Currently, the stem cells used to regenerate CEC are mainly pluripotent stem cells, either embryonic stem cells (ESC) or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), which are derived from adult cells. Despite their great potential for treating diseases, these types of stem cells present major limitations such as the risk of teratoma formation. In addition, they present other disadvantages such as ethical problems associated with the use of ESCs, safety problems related to iPSC since they requires the use of virus for their production hence limiting its clinical application.
For this reason, and in order to solve the current problems in the regeneration of corneal endothelium, this thesis project uses dental pulp stem cells (DPSC) for the formation of CEC. DPSC are an accessible source derived from the same patient, avoiding possible future problems of rejection. In addition, the use of DPSC avoids the ethical and security problems associated with ESC and iPSC. Furthermore, DPSC and CEC have the same embryological origin, as they both arise from neural crest stem cells. In fact, DPSC express neural crest stem cells markers, which facilitates their differentiation into neural crest stem cells (NCSC), which is an intermediate step for the formation of CEC. Therefore, this thesis project uses a two-step protocol, where DPSC are differentiated into NCSC and, subsequently, NCSC are derived into CEC.
Because the use of cell therapies alone may present limited cell viability once it is injected, the field of tissue engineering is a new discipline that has appeared to overcome this limitation. Tissue engineering combines the use of cells, biomaterials and biological molecules. It has been demonstrated that the use of different topographies in cell culture modulates cell behavior, and may have an effect on their functionality, cell distribution or cell size. Therefore, this thesis project applies tissue engineering as another strategy for the generation of functional CEC with its characteristic phenotype and morphology. For doing this, we have mimicked the natural CEC environment by cultivating the cells on substrates with different curvatures, composition or topographies that are able to mimic those of the human eye.
In conclusion, this thesis project proposes the use of bioengineering, by differentiating CEC from stem cells derived from the patient and the use of biomaterials with different topographies and curvatures, for the regeneration of corneal endothelium.||