An Innovative Technology to Support Retinal Cells Survival and Regeneration - 3D Silk Fibers/Mats Bio-Printing

Eduardo Garcia-Giler
Eduardo Garcia-Giler
Kyle Cheung
Thomas Claudepierre - Collaborator

The Problem: 

Despite many years of intense research, there are no available treatments to cure eye diseases such as glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration. One cause is the complexity of the molecular pathways involved. In the meantime, one approach could consist of protecting the surviving neuronal cells or hampering the progression of the disease. Previous work in our lab showed that engineered silk fibers containing biological nutrients (also called biofunctionalized silk fibers) support retinal neuron survival and regrowth. However, generating these silk fibers is challenging, therefore an efficient and reliable technology must be developed to engineer reproducible and large amount of such fibers.

The Questions:

Could 3D bio-printing generate reliable and large amounts of biofunctionalized silk fibers/mats? Can these 3D-printed biofunctionalized fibers/mats when in contact with retinal neurons protect them from degeneration or support their regeneration?


The Approach:

In collaboration with RegenHU, a company leader in the field of 3D bioprinting, we will optimize current 3D bio-printing technologies, particularly electrospinning, to standardize the engineering of the biofunctionalized silk fibers/mats. Next, we will test different combination of nutrients that will be included in the silk fibers/mats and study their mechanism of action. Retinal neurons from different animal models of eye diseases will be cultured on these fibers/mats. Their survival and regrowth will be analyzed using cellular and molecular markers. The dynamic of neuronal survival and regrowth will be studied using real-time microscopy. The main objective is to find the optimal nutrients mix/concentration, by combining growth promoting factors and inhibitors of detrimental factors, leading to the most efficient survival and regrowth. A long-term goal is to engineer implantable silk material (fibers or mats) for in vivo stimulation of retinal neuron survival/regeneration.

Discoveries and Innovation:

Wittmer CR, Claudepierre T, Reber M, Wiedemann P, Garlick JA, Kaplan D and Egles C. (2011) Multifunctionalized electrospun silk fibers promote axon regeneration in central nervous system. Adv. Funct. Mater. 21, 4232-4242