Fibrin hydrogels as a xenofree and rapidly degradable support for transplantation of retinal pigment epithelium monolayers

Jarel K. Gandhi, Zahid Manzar, Lori A. Bachman, Cynthia Andrews-Pfannkoch, Travis Knudsen, Matthew Hill, Hannah Schmidt, Raymond Iezzi, Jose S. Pulido, Alan D. Marmorstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Recent phase 1 trials of embryonic stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSCs) derived RPE transplants for the treatment of macular degeneration have demonstrated the relative safety of this process. However, there is concern over clumping, thickening, folding, and wrinkling of the transplanted RPE. To deliver a flat RPE monolayer, current phase 1 trials are testing synthetic substrates for RPE transplantation. These substrates, however, cause localized inflammation and fibrosis in animal models due to long degradation times. Here we describe the use of thin fibrin hydrogels as a support material for the transplantation of RPE. Fibrin was formed into a mechanically rigid support that allow for easy manipulation with standard surgical instruments. Using fibrinolytic enzymes, fibrin hydrogels were degraded on the scale of hours. The rate of degradation could be controlled by varying the fibrinolytic enzyme concentration used. RPE cells degraded fibrin spontaneously. To preserve the fibrin support during differentiation of iPSCs to RPE, media was supplemented with the protease inhibitor aprotinin. iPSC-RPE on fibrin gels remained viable, generated monolayers with characteristic cobblestone appearance and dark pigmentation, and expressed mRNA and protein markers characteristic of RPE in the eye. Following differentiation of the cells, addition of fibrinolytic enzymes fully and rapidly degraded the fibrin support leaving behind an intact, viable iPSC-RPE monolayer. In conclusion, human fibrin hydrogels provide a xeno-free support on which iPSCs can be differentiated to RPE cells for transplant which can be rapidly degraded under controlled conditions using fibrinolytic enzymes without adverse effects to the cells. Statement of Significance: Stem cell-derived retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cell transplantation is currently in phase 1 clinical trials for macular degeneration (MD). A major obstacle in these studies is delivering the RPE as a living, flat sheets without leaving behind foreign materials in the retina. Here we investigate the suitability of using hydrogels made from human blood-derived proteins for RPE transplant. Our data shows that these fibrin hydrogels are rigid enough for use in surgery, support growth of stem cell-derived RPE, and are easily degraded within hours without damage to the RPE sheet. These fibrin hydrogels offer a promising solution to transplant RPE for patients with MD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134-146
Number of pages13
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Fibrin
  • Hydrogel degradation
  • Retinal pigment epithelium
  • Tissue engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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