David Myung, Sarah Heilshorn, Alexander Kreymerman, Alisha Kumar, Hyun Jong Lee, Gabriella M. Fernandes-Cunha
In the treatment of traumatic injuries, burns, and ulcers of the eye, inadequate epithelial tissue healing remains a major challenge. Wound healing is a complex process involving the temporal and spatial interplay between cells and their extracellular milieu. It can be impaired by a variety of causes including infection, poor circulation, loss of critical cells, and/or proteins, and a deficiency in normal neural signaling (e.g., neurotrophic ulcers). Ocular anatomy is particularly vulnerable to lasting morbidity from delayed healing, whether it be scarring or perforation of the cornea, destruction of the conjunctival mucous membrane, or cicatricial changes to the eyelids and surrounding skin. Therefore, there is a major clinical need for new modalities for controlling and accelerating wound healing, particularly in the eye. Collagen matrices have long been explored as scaffolds to support cell growth as both two-dimensional coatings and substrates, as well as three-dimensional matrices. Meanwhile, the immobilization of growth factors to various substrates has also been extensively studied as a way to promote enhanced cellular adhesion and proliferation. Herein we present a new strategy for photochemically immobilizing growth factors to collagen using riboflavin as a photosensitizer and exposure to visible light (∼458 nm). Epidermal growth factor (EGF) was successfully bound to collagen-coated surfaces as well as directly to endogenous collagen from porcine corneas. The initial concentration of riboflavin and EGF as well as the blue light exposure time were keys to the successful binding of growth factors to these surfaces. The photocrosslinking reaction increased EGF residence time on collagen surfaces over 7 days. EGF activity was maintained after the photocrosslinking reaction with a short duration of pulsed blue light exposure. Bound EGF accelerated in vitro corneal epithelial cell proliferation and migration and maintained normal cell phenotype. Additionally, the treated surfaces were cytocompatible, and the photocrosslinking reaction was proven to be safe, preserving nearly 100% cell viability. These results suggest that this general approach is safe and versatile may be used for targeting and immobilizing bioactive factors onto collagen matrices in a variety of applications, including in the presence of live, seeded cells or in vivo onto endogenous extracellular matrix collagen.