Tissue engineering has gained substantial recognition due to the high demand for human cornea replacements with an estimated 10 million people worldwide suffering from corneal vision loss1. To address the demand for viable human corneas, significant progress in three-dimensional (3D) tissue engineering has been made2,3,4. These cornea models range from simple monolayer systems to multilayered models, leading to 3D full-thickness corneal equivalents2.
However, the use of a 3D tissue-engineered cornea in the context of in vitro disease models studied to date lacks resemblance to the multilayered 3D corneal tissue structure, function, and the networking of different cell types (i.e., nerve, epithelium, stroma, and endothelium)2,3. In addition, the demand for in vitro cornea tissue models has increased in an attempt to reduce animal testing for pharmaceutical products. Thus, more sophisticated models are required to better match systems to human physiological requirements, and the development of a model that is more relevant to the patient population is absolutely necessary. Given that multiple cell types in the cornea are affected by diseases and dystrophies, such as Keratoconus, Diabetic Keratopathy, and Fuchs, this model includes a 3D co-culture model of primary human corneal fibroblasts (HCFs) from healthy donors and neurons from the SH-SY5Y cell line. This allows us for the first time to investigate the interactions between the two cell types within the human corneal tissue. We believe that this model could potentially dissect the underlying mechanisms associated with the stromal-nerve interactions of corneal diseases that exhibit nerve damages. This 3D model mirrors the basic anatomical and physiological nature of the corneal tissue in vivo and can be used in the future as a tool for investigating corneal defects as well as screening the efficacy of various agents before animal testing.