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Knoxville — Dr. Mitchell Watsky, a physiologist from the University of Tennessee-Memphis, is part of a research team which has developed the first functional human corneal equivalent.

The findings appear in the Dec. 10 issue of the journal Science.

The corneal equivalents were constructed from human corneal cells. They will be used for wound healing research and for testing of toxic products and medications, eliminating in many cases the need for animal testing of these products.

“Those kinds of tests are required by the government for a number of different products,” Watsky said. “One of our goals was to come up with an in vitro or cell culture system so that we could completely avoid the use of animals in this type of testing.”

Another goal was to provide a “human model” for testing the efficacy of opthalmic drugs, Watsky said.

Watsky said the equivalents would also be used to better understand corneal wound healing, for example following laser surgery to correct nearsightedness.

Although the research has not yet produced a corneal replacement that could substitute for a human donor cornea in transplants, Watsky said the team-s work has paved the way for such a development.

“This research is the first of its kind, using all human cells which are genetically manipulated so we can continue to grow them in culture over and over again. The three layers of corneal tissue are reconstructed in a collagen matrix.”

The research team included scientists from The University of Ottawa Eye Institute in Canada; Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio; and Biomaterials Institute of Quebec.