JOURNAL OF BIOMATERIALS SCIENCE-POLYMER EDITION, vol.18, no.12, pp.1527-1545, 2007 (SCI-Expanded)
In this study, a highly porous collagen-based biodegradable scaffold was developed as an alternative to synthetic, non-degradable corneal implants. The developed method involved lyophilization and subsequent stabilization through N-ethyl-N'-[3-dimethylaminopropyl] carbodiimide/N-hydroxy succinimide (EDC/NHS) cross-linking to yield longer lasting, porous scaffolds with a thickness similar to that of native cornea (500 pm). For collagen-based scaffolds, cross-linking is essential; however, it has direct effects on physical characteristics crucial for optimum cell behavior. Hence, the effect of cross-linking was studied by examining the influence of cross-linking on pore size distribution, bulk porosity and average pore size. After seeding the foam with human corneal keratocytes, cell proliferation, cell penetration into the scaffold and ECM production within the scaffold were studied. After a month of culture microscopical and immunohistochemical examinations showed that the foam structure did not undergo any significant loss of integrity, and the human corneal keratocytes populated the scaffold with cells migrating both longitudinally and laterally, and secreted some of the main constituents of the corneal ECM, namely collagen types 1, V and VI. The foams had a layer of lower porosity (skin layer) both at the top and the bottom. Foams had an optimal porosity (93.6%), average pore size (67.7 mu m), and chemistry for cell attachment and proliferation. They also had a sufficiently rapid degradation rate (73.6 +/- 1.1% in 4 weeks) and could be produced at a thickness close to that of the natural corneal stroma. Cells were seeded at the top surface of the foams and their numbers there was higher than the rest, basically due to the presence of the skin layer. This is considered to be an advantage when epithelial cells need to be seeded for the construction of hemi or full thickness cornea.