Santhosh Kacham 1 , 2 , Tejal Sunil Bhure 1 , Sindhuja D. Eswaramoorthy 3 , Gaurav Naik 1 , Subha Narayan Rath 3 , Sreenivasa Rao Parcha 2 , * , Sayan Basu 1 , 4 , Virender Singh Sangwan 1 , 4 , Sachin Shukla 1 , *
19 May 2021
Corneal injuries are among the leading causes of blindness and vision impairment. Trauma, infectious keratitis, thermal and chemical (acids and alkali burn) injuries may lead to irreversible corneal scarring, neovascularization, conjunctivalization, and limbal stem cell deficiency. Bilateral blindness constitutes 12% of total global blindness and corneal transplantation remains a stand-alone treatment modality for the majority of end-stage corneal diseases. However, global shortage of donor corneas, the potential risk of graft rejection, and severe side effects arising from long-term use of immunosuppressive medications, demands alternative therapeutic approaches. Umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells can be isolated in large numbers using a relatively less invasive procedure. However, their role in injury induced corneal repair is largely unexplored. Here, we isolated, cultured and characterized mesenchymal stem cells from human umbilical cord, and studied the expression of mesenchymal (CD73, CD90, CD105, and CD34), ocular surface and epithelial (PAX6, WNT7A, and CK-8/18) lineage markers through immunofluorescence. The cultured human limbal and corneal epithelial cells were used as controls. Scratch assay was used to study the corneal epithelial repair potential of umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells, in vitro. The in vitro cultured umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells were plastic adherent, showed trilineage differentiation and expressed: mesenchymal markers CD90, CD105, CD73; epithelial marker CK-8/18, and ocular lineage developmental markers PAX6 and WNT-7A. Our findings suggest that umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells promote repair of the injured corneal epithelium by stimulating the proliferation of corneal epithelial cells, in vitro. They may serve as a potential non-ocular source of stem cells for treating injury induced bilateral corneal diseases.