Creating Artificial Corneas
MIE Associate Professor Jeff Ruberti has been awarded a $380K grant from the National Eye Institute for his work in engineering biomimetic corneal constructs.
Dr. Ruberti is the director of the EMERL. He has extensive industry experience having worked on helicopters at Sikorsky Aircraft, the International Space Station life support system at Hamilton Sunstrand and on polymeric systems at Cambridge Polymer Group. The combination of this work experience and his immersion in academic study have provided the synergy that drives the research of the EMERL.
Extracellular matrix (ECM) surrounds and supports the cells in metazoans (multicelled animals). Without ECM, life would be confined to single cells. It is the extracellular matrix that allows us to mechanically interact with our environment, to get up and walk around or to perform the complex movements required in day to day life.
The principal load-bearing molecule and most abundant protein on earth is collagen, whose primary function is to bear and transmit tensile loads. At the EMERL we view collagen as an intelligent biocompatible glue which can be used by fibroblastic cells to create highly optimized, load-adapted structures which can heal, grow and remodel. The basic science focus of the EMERL is the study of the kinetics of collagen assembly and degradation at the nano (monomer), micro (fibrillar) and tissue scale. The applied research in our laboratory is focused on the development of engineering methods to produce highly-organized, load-bearing materials comprising fibrillar collagen. Our specific tissue of interest is the corneal stroma because of its amazingly regular collagen structure. With our academic partners at the Schepen’s Eye Research Institute (Prof. James Zieske, Dr. Xiaoqing Guo and Audrey Hutcheon), we have been engineering and investigating the synthesis of an artificial corneal stromal material by primary corneal fibroblasts for potential use in replacing diseased corneal tissue. The focus of the EMERL is the development methods to produce highly-organized load-bearing extracellular matrix.