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Synthetic biology used to develop cornea capable of self-assembly.

Organ donation is where a live or deceased person consents to having one or more of their organs removed and transplanted to another person. Unfortunately, there’s currently an organ shortage crisis worldwide, and according to the US Department of Health, as of February 2018, there are 115,085 people waiting for life-saving organ transplants in the US.  Therefore, much interest has been placed on made-to-order organs, particularly those developed via synthetic biology with the ability to self-assemble.  Now, a study from researchers at the University of Newcastle utilizes synthetic biology to develop a gel containing live corneal cells possessing the capability to self-assemble to form into cornea-like structures. The team states their new method could be tweaked to produce other human organs, potentially helping millions more people in need of transplants.  The study is published in the journal Advanced Functional Material.

Previous studies show for every person in the world who receives a cornea transplant, there are sixty-nine others who still need one, leaving roughly 12.5 million people with limited sight due to a lack of donors.  Over the past decade, scientists have been testing artificial corneas made from synthetic collagen gel, however, one of the difficulties is in getting the gel to self-assemble into the curved shape to fit the eye and focus light so the patient can regain their sight.  The current study designs a gel mixture to contract by different amounts in different places to adopt a specific corneal shape.

The current study utilizes mixes collagen and live corneal cells that mimic microscopic engines to exert a contracting pull force to shape a one-inch-wide block of tissue into a corneal structure.  Results show a circular shape divided into two rings is developed, with peptide amphiphiles located either in the outer ring or in the center. Data findings show in both cases, one part contracted more than the other and this difference caused the gel to progressively curve over five days until it reached the correct corneal-like shape.

Results show the properties of self‐assembling gels are more similar to those of the native tissue, representing a significant improvement over planar 3D scaffolds.  The group states it may be possible to use this technique to manufacture other artificial tissues from organs naturally consisting of cells with the ability to contract, such as heart and blood vessel tissues.  They go on to explain the contracting cells must be combined with the bio-material of interest, with the peptide amphiphiles positioned within well-defined areas of the bio-material to enable it to assemble into the desired shape.

The team surmises they have produced an artificial self-assembling corneal-like structure without the use of planar scaffolds.  For the future, the researchers state it may be possible to take this technology one step further to printing more complex biological structures or organs with can arrange themselves without the need of scaffolds.

Source: The Conversation

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Michelle Petersen View All

I am an award-winning science journalist and health industry veteran who has taught and worked in the field.

Featured by numerous prestigious brands and publishers, I specialize in clinical trial innovation–-expertise I gained while working in multiple positions within the private sector, the NHS, and Oxford University, where I taught undergraduates the spectrum of biological sciences integrating physics for over four years.

I recently secured tenure as a committee member for the Smart Works Charity, which helps women find employment in the UK.

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