Scientists have developed a biological system which lets cells form a desired shape by moulding their surrounding material – initially creating the world’s first self-curving cornea.
The cornea is the clear outer layer at the front of the eye ball.
In the research, a flat circle of gel containing corneal stromal cells (stem cells) was activated with a serum so that the edges of the gel contracted at a different rate to the centre, drawing up the edge over the course of 5 days to form a bowl-like curved cornea.
This time-lapsed video shows this astonishing process.
The research is published in Advanced Functional Materials and was led by Professor Che Connon, professor of tissue engineering, Newcastle University. He says: “Currently there is a shortage of donated corneas which has worsened in recent years, as they cannot be used from anyone who has had laser eye surgery so we need to explore alternatives such as these self-curving corneas.
“The cells are triggered into forming a complex 3D structure, but as this requires time to occur, the fourth dimension in this equation, we have labelled them 4D structures.”
The 4D formation is achieved by the innovative use of cells as biological actuators, components which get the parts moving. In this case, the cells themselves force the surrounding tissue to move in a pre-determined manner over time.
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