A bioengineering approach to Schlemm's canal-like stem cell differentiation for in vitro glaucoma drug screening

Yangzi Isabel Tian, Xulang Zhang, Karen Torrejon, John Danias, Sofya Gindina, Ashima Nayyar, Yiqin Du, Yubing Xie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Human Schlemm's canal (HSC) cells are critical for understanding outflow physiology and glaucoma etiology. However, primary donor cells frequently used in research are difficult to isolate. HSC cells exhibit both vascular and lymphatic markers. Human adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs) represent a potential source of HSC due to their capacity to differentiate into both vascular and lymphatic endothelial cells, via VEGF-A and VEGF-C. Shear stress plays a critical role in maintaining HSC integrity, function, and PROX1 expression. Additionally, the human trabecular meshwork (HTM) microenvironment could provide cues for HSC-like differentiation. We hypothesize that subjecting ADSCs to VEGF-A or VEGF-C, shear stress, and co-culture with HTM cells could provide biological, mechanical, and cellular cues necessary for HSC-like differentiation. To test this hypothesis, effects of VEGF-A, VEGF-C, and shear stress on ADSC differentiation were examined and compared to primary HSC cells in terms of cell morphology, and HSC marker expression using qPCR, immunoblotting, and immunocytochemistry analysis. Furthermore, the effect of co-culture with HTM cells on porous scaffolds on ADSC differentiation was studied. Treatment with VEGF-C under shear stress is effective in differentiating ADSCs into PROX1-expressing HSC-like cells. Co-culture with HTM cells on porous scaffolds leads to HTM/ADSC-derived HSC-like constructs that regulate through-flow and respond as expected to dexamethasone. Statement of significance: We successfully generated human Schlemm's canal (HSC) like cells from adipocyte-derived stem cells induced by biochemical and biomechanical cues as well as bioengineered human trabecular meshwork (HTM) on micropatterned, porous SU8 scaffolds. These stem cell-derived HSC-like cells co-cultured with HTM cells on SU8 scaffolds can regulate through-flow, and in particular, are responsive to steroid treatment as expected. These findings show that ADSC-derived HSC-like cells have the potential to recreate the ocular outflow pathway for in vitro glaucoma drug screening. To the best of our knowledge, it is the very first time to demonstrate derivation of Schlemm's canal-like cells from stem cells. It provides an important alternative source to primary Schlemm's canal cells that are very difficult to be isolated and cultured from human donors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-213
Number of pages11
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Glaucoma
  • Microfabrication
  • Schlemm's canal
  • Shear stress
  • Stem cell


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