Methods: The study involved optimization of the cross-linker formulation. Mechanical stiffness of ex vivo porcine and human corneas after application of the cross-linker was measured. Histochemical analysis was performed to record changes in gross morphology after cross-linker treatment on ex vivo porcine and human and in vivo rabbit corneas. Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase–mediated dUTP-X nick-end-labeling (TUNEL) staining was performed to study apoptotic effects of cross-linker. Cytotoxicity potential of cross-linker was evaluated by studying explant cultures for cellular outgrowth and immunostaining assays on porcine and human corneas after treatment.
Results: We demonstrated a clinically relevant increase in stiffness in ex vivo experiments using porcine and human cornea without removal of corneal epithelium. Histological analysis showed no change in gross morphology of cornea and no evidence of apoptosis. In vivo treatment of rabbit eyes demonstrated initial thinning of corneal epithelium that recovered after seven days although with abnormal regularity of cells. Cellular outgrowth from corneal explant cultures after treatment further confirmed cell survival after treatment.
Conclusions: This chemical cross-linking of corneal tissue has potential advantages over current therapeutic options including lower cytotoxicity to stromal cells than ultraviolet A treatment.
Translational Relevance: The cross-linker has potential to become a treatment for keratoconus because it overcomes the need for procedures using specialized equipment and ensures accessibility to large populations.