Purpose: To report the outcomes of transplantation of autologous conjunctival epithelial cells cultivated ex vivo (EVCAU) in patients with total limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD).
Methods: EVCAU were cultivated on denuded human amniotic membrane and transplanted in 12 eyes of 10 patients with total LSCD. We evaluated the improvement in the defined clinical parameters of LSCD (loss of corneal epithelial transparency, superficial corneal neovascularization and epithelial irregularity/recurrent epithelial breakdown), vision acuity, impression cytology, immunocytochemical analysis (CK3/CK19), and the appearance of a regular hexagonal basal layer of cells on corneal confocal microscopy. Histologic and immunohistochemical features were studied in 3 corneal buttons of patients submitted to penetrating keratoplasty after EVCAU.
Results: Cultivated conjunctival epithelium formed 4 to 5 layers with the formation of basement membrane–like structures. Immunocytochemical analysis showed positivity for CK3, CK19, MUC5AC, Ki-67, P63, and ABCG2. The improvement of the clinical parameters for this treatment in our cohort was 10 of 12 (83.3%) in a mean follow-up time of 18.5 months (range, 15–26 months), and these eyes showed an improvement in impression cytology, immunocytochemistry, and in vivo confocal analysis. Corneal buttons showed a well-formed epithelium with 5 to 6 layers, with rare cells periodic acid–Schiff+, and positivity for CK3, CK19, P63, connexin 43, and MUC5AC.
Conclusion: We demonstrated the preliminary results of transplantation of EVCAU for corneal surface reconstruction in cases with total LSCD. Future studies are needed to further assess the long-term efficacy of this procedure.