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Bert Van den Bogerd, Nadia Zakaria, Bianca Adam, Steffi Matthyssen, Carina Koppen, Sorcha Ní Dhubhghaill; Corneal Endothelial Cells Over the Past Decade: Are We Missing the Mark(er)?. Trans. Vis. Sci. Tech. 2019;8(6):13. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/tvst.8.6.13.
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Corneal endothelial dysfunction is one of the leading causes of corneal edema and visual impairment, requiring corneal endothelial transplantation. The treatments are limited, however, by both logistics and a global donor shortage. As a result, corneal researchers are striving to develop tissue-engineered constructs as an alternative. Recently, the clinical results of the first patients treated using a novel corneal endothelial cell therapy were reported, and it is likely many more will follow shortly. As we move from lab to clinic, it is crucial that we establish accurate and robust methods of proving the cellular identity of these products, both in genotype and phenotype.
In this review, we summarized all of the markers and techniques that have been reported during the development of corneal endothelial cell therapies over the past decade. The results show the most frequently used markers were very general, namely Na+/K+ ATPase and zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1). While these markers are expressed in nearly every epithelial cell, it is the hexagonal morphology that points to cells being corneal endothelium in nature. Only 11% of articles aimed at discovering novel markers, while 30% were already developing cell therapies. Finally, we discuss the potential of functional testing of cell products to demonstrate potency in parallel with identity markers.
With this review, we would like to highlight that, while this is an exciting era in corneal endothelial cell therapies, there is still no accepted consensus on a unique endothelial marker panel. We must ask the question of whether or not we are getting ahead of ourselves and whether we need to refocus on basic science rather than enter clinics prematurely.
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