Aim: As a strategy to improve the outcome of ex vivo cultivated corneal epithelial transplantation, the role of human umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hUC-MSCs) is investigated in promoting corneal epithelial growth and functions. Materials & methods: Human telomerase-immortalized corneal epithelial cells were characterized and its functions evaluated by scratch migration assay, cellular senescence, HLA expression and spheres formation with hUC-MSC. Results: Expression of corneal epithelial markers was influenced by the duration and method of co-culture. Indirect co-culture improved cellular migration and delayed senescence when treated after 3 and 5 days. hUC-MSC downregulated expression of HLA Class I and II in IFN-γ-stimulated human telomerase-immortalized corneal epithelial cells. Conclusion: hUC-MSC promote corneal epithelial growth and functions after treatment with hUC-MSC.
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