Dexamethasone-loaded keratin films for ocular surface reconstruction
Amniotic membrane (AM) is often applied as a substitute material during ocular surface reconstruction. However, since AM has several disadvantages, alternative materials must be considered for this application. Keratin films made from human hair (KFs) have previously been presented as a promising option; they exhibited suitable characteristics and satisfactory biocompatibility in an in vivo rabbit model. Nevertheless, dexamethasone (DEX) eye drops are necessary after surgery to suppress inflammation. Since eye drops must be administered frequently, this might result in poor patient compliance, and the release of DEX at the transplant site would be clinically beneficial. Therefore, we aimed to incorporate DEX into KFs without hindering the positive film characteristics. Drug-loaded KFs were generated either by suspension technique or by the addition of solubilizing agents. The resulting specimens were analyzed regarding appearance, loading capacity, transparency, mechanical characteristics, swelling behavior and in vitro release. Furthermore, biocompatibility was assessed in vitro by determining the cell viability, seeding efficiency and growth behavior of corneal epithelial cells. The amount of incorporated DEX influenced the transparency and biomechanical properties of the films, but even highly loaded films showed properties similar to those of AM. The suspension technique was identified as the best incorporation approach regarding chemical stability and prolonged DEX release. Moreover, suspended DEX in the films did not negatively impact cell seeding efficiencies, and the cell-growth behaviors on the specimens with moderate DEX loads were satisfactory. This suggest that these films could comprise a suitable alternative material with additional anti-inflammatory activity for ocular surface reconstruction. Graphical abstract.