Healthy eyes contain a population of limbal stem cells (LSCs) that continuously renew the corneal epithelium. However, each year, 1 million Americans are afflicted with severely reduced visual acuity caused by corneal damage or disease, including LSC deficiency (LSCD). Recent advances in corneal transplant technology promise to repair the cornea by implanting healthy LSCs to encourage regeneration; however, success is limited to transplanted tissues that contain a sufficiently high percentage of LSCs. Attempts to screen limbal tissues for suitable implants using molecular stemness markers are confounded by the poorly understood signature of the LSC phenotype. For cells derived from the corneal limbus, we show that the performance of cell stiffness as a stemness indicator is on par with the performance of ΔNP63α, a common molecular marker. In combination with recent methods for sorting cells on a biophysical basis, the biomechanical stemness markers presented here may enable the rapid purification of LSCs from a heterogeneous population of corneal cells, thus potentially enabling clinicians and researchers to generate corneal transplants with sufficiently high fractions of LSCs, regardless of the LSC percentage in the donor tissue.
Bongiorno, T., Chojnowski, J. L., Lauderdale, J. D., & Sulchek, T. (2016). Cellular Stiffness as a Novel Stemness Marker in the Corneal Limbus. Biophysical Journal, 111(8), 1761–1772. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2016.09.005